I already talked a bit about my introduction to Minecraft in a post earlier this week and after countless hours of breaking apart mountains, getting lost and buried in caves, falling in lava and dying a bunch I think I’m ready to give the game a solid review.
For anyone not familiar with Minecraft, the name says it all – You mine and you craft stuff. That’s about it. Well, there is a little bit more to it in the form of zombie and spider invasions come nightfall, but the basic “concept” of the game is to beat down trees or mine minerals and use them to build shelter to survive the night and live to craft a bigger and better shelter tomorrow. I quote the word “concept” because, in the end, Minecraft is really what you make of it.
You can go at Minecraft solo, 4-player local split-screen or 8-player online. Each player controls a blocky looking Steve around a completely randomized map consisting of giant bodies of water, beaches, forests, mountains, mines and snowy variants of each. Anything and everything can be destroyed and used in-game to craft various simple objects like wooden boxes to build shelter, dead cow leather for basic armor and seeds to grow crops a-la Harvest Moon.
Once you’ve collected enough wood you can build a crafting table that completely expands the amount of items you can create, giving you tons of options and letting your imagination go nuts. If you want to level out an entire mountain and erect a castle with lava spewing all over the place, go for it! You can even get in-depth and make rollercoasters with the minecart and rail system, waterslides with steps and buckets of water or trap door pitfalls for those friggin creepers that explode your shelter apart when you get too close.
Like I mentioned before, once night falls the game goes all Night of the Living Dead on you and you can either craft better weapons and armor to fend them off or build a shelter that can withstand the force of zombies, spiders, skeletal archers and the dreaded creepers. While this is an interest concept, the idea of it was kind of lost on me once I built a bed for my shelter. Sleeping in the bed fast-forwards the game from night to day, completely bypassing the zombie death march cards with trample for ample damage (kudos to anyone who picks up the MC Frontalot and Magic: the Gathering references). My girlfriend and I played split-screen and we got so in to crafting a gigantic castle that we didn’t want to be bothered with the monsters, so we switched from regular mode to “peaceful” which just lets you do your thing without the zombie spawns. So it’s really up to you if you want to build shelter and play tower defense or if you want to go ballistic and dig out half the map to make your castle float.
I’m not sure how Minecraft controlled for PC but I can assure you that the transition to the 360 was executed perfectly. The button layout is basic, which is the ongoing theme for the game itself, and we never found ourselves frustrated with moving our blocky Steves, digging in mines, building stuff or smashing zombies with a raw pork chop. It just worked.
If you’re graphically repulsed by Minecraft, keep in mind that it’s a very basic concept and is meant to be fun. That’s the bottom line. It’s as simple as you make it but you can let your imagination run wild and build whatever you want. Once you’ve been in your own Minecraft world for a few hours, you start to appreciate its simplicity and small things like lighting effects or mining above you until lava pours on your face and you die, losing all of your valuables you just worked hours for, start to impress you.
So for all of the fun, there has to be a complaint or two, right? My only gripe with Minecraft is the inventory interface when you play split-screen. Even with our decently sized flat-screen, it was hard to locate items in our inventory with smaller icons (like string, arrows, seeds and bones) and the tiny font didn’t really help at all. Still though, it’s easy enough to remember what the icons look like and go from there but the ability to zoom in to your inventory screen would have been nice. Also, while this didn’t affect us, an HDTV is required to play local co-op.
The Verdict – B+
Overall, we both loved playing Minecraft and found ourselves breaking things apart and building our fortress way in to the wee hours of the night. It’s a simple concept that works really well and it’s common to see minutes turn to hours. Minecraft has been available for PC users for a long while now, so if you’re really curious as to what you can build, do yourself a favor and YouTube “Minecraft creations” and see for yourself. If you like mindless activities like farming and building stuff, Minecraft should be right up your alley, especially if you’re looking for something to play with your friends.
It’s a great game to get lost in but it’s also nice to have around when you just want to play something for an hour to kill some time. There is no story to worry about forgetting, no dragons to slay, no terrorists to shoot and no civilians to save besides yourself. It even has a neat feature that lets you pause the game for a screen cap that you can upload directly to your Facebook. It’s easily the best $20/1600 MSP you’ll spend all summer.