Xbox Live Arcade
|Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: 4J Studios
Release Date: May 9th, 2012
The concept is simple: Stay alive. You’re the lone survivor in a large, almost limitless stretch of land. Minecraft gives you the tools needed to succeed, including a crafting bench to make them, a furnace to forge iron, and plenty of plans to harvest seeds from and obtain flour and bread. There’s also some animals you can kill to pork or eggs, or skin for leather, as well as milk to bake a cake for yourself. But, beware going out at night, as various enemies such as zombie, spiders, and large green exploding beings caller Creepers are out to kill you. Hopefully you built a place to hide and wait through the night…
The audio here really isn’t the most amazing by any means. It’s a simple set of instrumental music that plays soft, sometimes upbeat music during the daylight hours, and eventually becomes a little more silent and ominous at night. Unfortunately, none of it is ever really memorable. During the crucial hours of the shift in light and darkness, you’ll hear a clock ticking, which usually marks the all clear or for you to hide for the night. The sound effects of the animals and even being hit are the most basic audio samples you can find, as is the moaning of the zombies and creepers. The only issue that I really had with any of this was that sometimes a random moan would appear during the day, as if right next to me, but I’d be in the middle of a lake standing on ice with nothing nearby to make that noise, not even a random sheep utilizing the wrong file. Eventually, this took away from some of the bite that these sound effects did end up having while trapped outside looking for my sanctuary with monsters on my tail.
The visuals here are on par with any old-school 8-bit console available. Thanks to the larger characters and not going with simple sprites, everything retains a nice blockish approach including all the animals. This does bring in a bit of nostalgia for the older gamers, but overall it ends up being a simple visual premise to coincide with a simple game mechanic and concept. As you build new items, it feels more like you’re playing with Lego blocks, even though you’re utilizing the game’s version of wood, stone, iron ore, charcoal, or whatever other ingredients you happen upon. Everything is represented by blocks, and as you look down at what you can mine, till, or dig, you’ll see the outlines to give you a better perspective of what you are doing, showing what will be excavated, chopped down, or mined. This does help you as far as construction goes, especially if you’re good at designing things on paper, and then laying everything out. The square grid of the game works wonders to help you follow the designs on paper layered out with the same kind of blocked grid on one or more sheets. There’s plenty of potential out there to build wonderous things, and any random Google search will show that creativity knows no limits here.
Of course, there’s no real story to this game. All you basically do is try to survive as long as you can without monsters or Creepers killing you. Collect whatever you can, place excess into cabinets, produce farm land, set up rails for a mine cart to make travelling throughout the world a lot easier, even throw a saddle on a pig it ride it throughout the world, into walls, or even over a cliff. It’s your very own deserted island scenario for you to do with as you please. While this may seem boring after the first five minutes, Minecraft is surprisingly addictive. As you explore, you do find new areas that open up. That wall you constructed in your home base may very well be knocked down to discover a large cavern, or even a pool of water that leads to a whole new cavernous section of land via boat. These discoveries are what really keeps the gamer coming back despite the bare bones download itself, and it can really become infectious for many out there willing to give it time.
For those who never played it before, Minecraft offers up a tutorial, but chances are good you won’t get the full concept of what you need to do from it. Sometimes you’ll end up scratching your head on how to use the furnace properly, or why you can’t seem to get the right kind of stone. The details become a little sketchy, and eventually, once you learn the simple basics, you’ll find yourself just creating a new game and going head first into experiencing what your freshly made world has to offer. There are plenty of Youtube videos available to help you get started if you’re lost, and a number of other resources such as a Wiki that is even mentioned at the main menu of the game, along with random statements near the logo that more times than not are simply bad puns or just not funny. But, everything you need is programmed into the game, you just have to learn what to use, such as a stone mining axe to mine out Iron Ore, or an axe to chop down wood.
One of the biggest drawbacks to this title is the fact that you can die, and essentially start from where you left off. Dying in this game isn’t a total end to everything you’ve done, nor does it really bode any punishment whatsoever for being stupid enough to go out at night or not watch your back in the morning hours. Instead, you restart near where you were killed, and the worst you have to do is pick up the items you had on you, which end up scattered about, and have to repair the damage done (if it even needs to be that is) from the explosion the Creeper caused. Granted if it takes out a wall to a large structure, it can cause some blocks to come down, but that’s largely if you built many of the walls with sand (not sandstone). Other than that, there’s no real reason to worry about it.
As far as replay goes, the less deterring repurcussions of death does keep the spirit of gamers alive. However, there isn’t really anything else to this game to keep people going aside discoveries of new rocks, minerals, metals, or land masses. The game does boast the ability to have friends join you in your land, including plugging in some spare controllers for four player splitscreen co-op, or just inviting someone from the dashboard while you play. There also is supposedly cross-platform gameplay with the PC version, but I was not able to experience it for this review. This does feature a decent amount of achievements as well, falling under the four hundred gamerscore rule that just went into effect, but most of them you’ll earn during the Tutorial, or even just random gameplay. Some of the most difficult involves using red stone or baking a cake, a title that throws back to Portal for a joke, as well as riding a pig and causing it damage. But then you get points for simply building a tool, or making a better one with stone instead of wood. It all varies, but depending on the land, you can get them all right away, or have to dig for the necessary components or a suitable path.
In the end, Minecraft really is nothing all that special. You basically go out and farm, build, or mine during the day, then trap yourself into your new home so the monsters don’t get you during the night, an experience you can sleep away instantly if you happen to build a bed. The only trouble is the monsters do still linger during the day for some reason, and it can be a pain thinking all is safe and they should be gone, only to be blown up a Creeper while your back is turned. The music is simple, the effects are basic, the visuals are Nintendo Entertainment System style, and that’s about all there is to say. But, if you have any sort of adventurous bone in your body, you’ll end up falling in love with the ability to explore these new lands, discover hidden caverns, mine new minerals, or just randomly give chase to a pig (chances are good making some random noise of call) and slaughter it for porkchops which you cook up through the furnace. Even baking a cake or putting together a painting for your home with random images (my first was a skeleton that, thanks to the blocks, looked as though it had a fleshy penis…) will keep you coming back to continue exploring your world, though stronger penalties for death and the lack of random moans killing the impact they have after a while does kind of ruin some of the fun after a while. Other than that, fans of the PC version will still find countless hours of fun with this title.
Digital review copy of this title provided by Microsoft Game Studios.