Review: Minecraft (Xbox 360 Version)
What is Minecraft? Well, it’s a game where you mine stuff and craft things.
It’s also a global phenomenon. PC gamers will be only too aware of this game’s importance. It was a shining example of an indie game catching on and becoming an acclaimed, lucrative success. It was originally written in Java by “Notch” aka Makcus Persson – the Swedish programmer who grew the game into a successful company – Mojang. The first alpha version for PC went on sale in 2009 and it has now sold more than 5 million copies.
It was a huge hit and it was great to see an underdog – an independent bedroom programmer – triumph like that. There is huge affection across the gaming community for this game and its creators, so it’s great to see the game be ported across to an even more accessible format – Xbox 360.
On the Xbox it takes the form of an Xbox Live Marketplace game – a download. And it faces some pretty stiff competition. This year has seen high quality releases such as I Am Alive, Fez, Trials Evolution, Alan Wake: American Nightmare and more. The bar is rising higher with every week.
Nevertheless – it’s now on sale and at 1,600 MS points (nearly £14 approx) – it’s a little more expensive than most XBLA titles. But is it worth it? Oh yes…
So – it’s about mining and crafting. You start the game with little explanation – dumped in the middle of a sprawling, beautiful, blocky world. The graphical style is super distinctive – everything is deliberately blocky. It’s very endearing – the amount of charm and detail that can go into a lego-looking tree, or a sheep, or a square chicken really makes me smile. But the resolution is high, movement is fluid – it’s all very pleasant to experience. The music is very calming, not very distinctive – it just rolls along in the background. Think Sim City – the nineties original (or better yet the SNES version – now there’s an underrated game) and you’ll have an idea of the chilled vibe.
But how and why? Well, to start with you are given nothing – you start by digging up soil, harvesting wood by hand – making rudimentary things such as wooden planks etc. Do that for a little while and it’s possible to make a crafting bench. This is useful – it’s possible to make basic tools then. Tools such as wooden pickaxes to mine stone. Pretty soon after that it’s possible to build a furnace – to make some charcoal from your wood and then make glass, burning torches and more.
This is all fun – trouble is that during the first couple of hours, you can get so swept up in this that you fail to see the sun setting and the darkness setting in. This is where the “why” comes in.
At night – monsters come out. It’s vital to find and build a shelter as quickly as possible. The Xbox version is a little stripped-down compared to the PC and it has an extensive tutorial – it directed me to a half finished shack. With the light fading I desperately built a door to put on the doorway and blocked up the walls as high as I could – no time to finish the roof.
Darkness set in and I lit a torch – and stuck it on the inside wall of my little house. I then realised that I hadn’t enough resources to craft a bed. I had some wood, but not enough wool. I had been able to harvest a little from a blocky sheep nearby. Without a bed, I couldn’t sleep in the game – so I just sort of waited the first night out in my shack, watching the moon pass overhead through my open roof.
I lasted about halfway through that night and then heard some noises. A couple of huge, blocky spiders jumped in and attacked me. I hadn’t yet reached a point where I could make weapons and armour (that comes a little later) so I just had to hit them with my basic wooden tools until they broke. So I started hitting them with wooden and stone blocks.
With one point of health remaining, the sun finally came up and the attack stopped. I ran outside and built some rudimentary steps and sealed up the roof. Welcome to Minecraft.
I then explored a little further. By acquiring a boat, it was possible to strike out and explore the land a little more. There was a village nearby (full of ready made houses with secure doors and beds. Curses!), a huge castle in the distance, even a railway line.
It was was all soothing, enjoyable – compelling. But at this moment I began to wonder what the point of it all was. Simply to continue to build, survive, acquire and create. I had a moment of doubt over whether this would provide real longevity… But it does. There’s always the challenge of wanting to mine and craft more, from food to tools, to weapons and mechanisms. Just take a look online – some creative gamers have made unbelievably beautiful and intricate objects, places and more… There is also a kind of win condition – craft a portal to an alternate dimension and see what lies beyond. But I won’t say any more for fear of spoilers.
Also – there is a co-op mode. Up to four players can work together, building and harvesting as a team. It’s a nice addition to the game – a true co-operative effort I guess.
It deserves recognition – for being original, accessible, deep and fresh. But most of all I’m thrilled for Notch. A one-man team is now at the head of a programming empire and he is famous throughout the world. Minecraft is something new. It may not appeal to the average FIFA or CoD player. But if you loved thoughtful, relaxing games such as Sim City, Civilization, hell even Theme Park – check it out. It’s been a new and enjoyable experience for me.
Minecraft is out now to download on Xbox Live Marketplace.