Minecraft is a game I have purposely avoided all these years, knowing full well that with its addictive nature I would never get anything done around the house once I turned it on. Well now it’s arrived on XBLA and there is no option but to review it, so after a tearful last few moments with the Mrs, I venture to the spare room, equipped with snacks and liquids never to be seen again. You may mock but my preparations but they were warranted as this game is a time hole, where minutes turn into hours and days pass in a blink of an eye.
When games throw around buzz words like “sandbox” and “open world”, you know most of the time they fall very short of expectations, with many restrictions attached to keep an element of gameplay. Minecraft manages to show exactly what a sandbox style game is by being extremely simple, though to call it a sandbox game sells it short, Minecraft is more like a digital LEGO box; allowing you to create all sorts of buildings and contraptions, but it’s not as easy as putting your hand in a box of LEGO for your pieces as that would be too easy, in Minecraft you have to work hard for your pieces.
Minecraft manages to gets its hooks into you right from the off, taking nods from classic computer game lead characters in as much as you have no history, you don’t talk, and there is no story; it’s your imagination that plays key roles here. The game will drop your silent character on the shores of a randomly created archipelago, leaving you to your own devices with just the clothes on your back. It’s survival at its most basic, offering a true Robinson Crusoe feel not covered in any other game. Starting with just your hands you start to gather wood, you then can begin creating tools like axes and spades, making previously laborious tasks quicker. You are not completely alone on these islands, with chickens, cows, pigs and sheep snorting and bleating away on the many hills and pastures, offering wool and eggs to collect or if you want to get messy, leather for basic armour and pork chops as a steady food supply to regain health after a heavy fall. The beautiful and idyllic scene is twisted at night as the islands become a place of nightmares; with a large array of monsters terrorising the lands, so survival is thrust upon you from the get go, build a shelter or die, it’s that simple. Early on in the game this is your main priority, scraping and shaping a dirt hole becomes a race against time to block yourself in and ride out the all too quick to appear night-time, then darting out during the day to gather basics to create doors and torches, gradually building stock for a more safer haven.
“Crafting”, a word that sends shivers down my spine whenever it appears in a game. A term mostly used in fantasy role playing titles that involves creating potions and magic’s and such to improve your character using an over complicated system, an area I tend to completely ignore in most games. Thankfully the crafting side of Minecraft is very simple in execution with a drag and drop system that shows you what is in your inventory and also what is required, allowing you to create a multitude of weapons, tools and other materials to make your stay more comfortable and with Crafting Tables and Furnaces enabling even more items you will be mining away for a very long time and this is where you will either love or hate this game, as the big grind comes into play early on. There is no end game, you just keep on going, to some it may be aimless and to others, the ultimate in survival gaming, it is all down to your gaming preferences. Whilst there are a few resources above ground it is below the earth where you will spend most of your time, mining away huge and complex tunnel systems trying to find veins of valuable materials that you can later smelt and create even more elaborate items like a mining cart rail system or traps to stop the monsters hassling you as you work at night. Digging away will also offer plenty of surprises like hidden caves deep in the lower depths of the islands that offer all sorts of bounty.
To jump straight into Minecraft with no prior experience will cause plenty of headaches trying to figure out what is expected of you and thankfully the Xbox 360 version also has a training level, very handy for someone like myself who has never played this game before and it is very well created, showing you the basics like mining, crafting and collecting food and then letting you roam around a huge pre-created map that will show you what sort of things are capable in-game. For those keen to jump into the main game you can always return to the training map at a later date to scrub up on the more technical mechanisms as and when they are relevant to your main game.
A huge attraction to the many other versions of Minecraft is the ability to share and visit other people’s worlds and the Xbox 360 version attempts this but is not as open as I would have liked. The ability to share photos with other players is a nice touch but sadly there is no video support. There is an open world online option but being so early on in the games life on the Xbox 360 there does not seem to be anybody who wants to share; I guess they are all too busy surviving solo and building their masterpieces before opening their world for public view. In the meantime there is also a local split screen option which works really well and is a pleasant addition, with other players able to jump on and help build whatever you like.
At 1600 MS points Minecraft is one of the more expensive XBLA titles out there but with it being such an addictive and original title it is well worth your hard earned money and time.
Rating: ExcellentReview Policy(version tested: Xbox 360/XBLA)
Minecraft is available on XBLA now. You can order points card for XBLA from ShopTo here.