Prior to being given my review copy of Minecraft, Mojang’s massively popular indie sandbox game, I published an article on what I expected from my first time playing the indie hit, having only known of the game through friends who are avid players. This lack of prior experience with the PC version actually puts me in a good position to review the Xbox 360 port on its own merits, objectively and free of hype or hyperbole.
Some PC games don’t translate well to home console ports, while some do rather well, and I am happy to say that Minecraft on the Xbox 360, developed for the console by 4J Studios and published by Mojang, achieves the latter despite a few minor setbacks.
For the uninitiated, first experience in the world of Minecraft can be summed up with simple adjectives like “confusing” and “chaotic”. There is no plot or even the thinnest of storylines, no narrative to provide dramatic tension and no set objectives assigned to you. The Xbox 360 port provides a Tutorial mode that is not present in the PC version, which helps ease you in with a walkthrough of the basics of building, mining, crafting and the like. From that point, you are dropped into a colorful world that is made of blocks and left to your own devices, which can be intimidating for players accustomed to more story-driven or action-oriented games.
Once you have the basics down, the game begins in earnest. The main objectives of Minecraft boil down to simple concepts: explore the land, gather resources on the surface or by mining underground and craft them into materials you can use to build whatever your imagination can create. Throughout the land, there are resources you must gather to make certain items, a process called “crafting.”
Some items, such as wood and stone, are in abundance and can be used to craft tools, weapons and building materials. Better items, including clothing, decorations and precious metals, require much rarer items that you will need to search for. The in-game crafting menu has been changed from the PC version in two notable ways; it will tell you what you need to craft a certain item, and the process of crafting has been streamlined to allow for items to be created with one button click. This is clearly a system designed clearly with new players in mind.
The real appeal of Minecraft is in the building, which is limited only by your imagination. When you start out, your first house will be little more than four walls and a roof, designed to keep you safe during the nighttime hours. After that, you will find yourself building progressively larger and more elaborate structures. Want a giant skyscraper? Check. What a massive underground lair with tunnels and multiple entrances? Check. Want to build a statue of your favorite video game character? You can do all of that. The controls work very well in making the process of building structures fast and easy, and the grid-based layout of the lane makes it very easy to gauge the size and scale of your creation. This is the aspect that has kept many a gamer hooked for hours on end.
Combat in Minecraft is optional depending on the difficulty level you choose. Gone are the “Creative” and “Survival” modes from the PC version, which may disappoint some, but you get more or less the same experience depending on how difficult you want the game to be. Minecraft follows a standard day-night cycle, with the daylight hours being the time you will mainly use for searching and building items. Come nightfall, the monsters come out and you become a magnet for all things hostile. The popular Creepers are present here, ready to sneak up on you and explode. Spiders, zombies, skeletons and the occasional hostile wolf round out the roster of monsters, and they are effectively menacing in a cartoonish kind of way. This is not to say that combat is easy by any stretch.
As any player of the PC version will attest, your first experiences with the monsters in Minecraft is a frantic and frustrating experience. Provided you have crafted the right weapons, you can hold your own against most enemies, however it is rough going in the beginning. For this reason, you will likely be better off building a simple house to keep them at bay. Once you get into weapon crafting, the combat opens up and provides you with a challenging and rewarding augment to the relatively tame building and crafting aspects. Enemies lurk in caves and mines and drop their own precious resources, so if you’re looking to progress to the really good items, combat is encouraged. If you just want to build and have a relatively stress-free experience, the “Peaceful” difficulty is enemy-free.
In terms of controls, Minecraft is a game was created for the mouse and keyboard, so purists of the PC platform might not warm to the idea of plating the game with a console controller. However, the console controls do a good job of making the game playable with out making it feel diluted. There are three different control schemes you can choose from, however the default setting feels the most natural for a console action game.
The trigger buttons are your main action buttons, while abilities like crafting, checking inventory and jumping are intuitively mapped to the buttons. Differentiating between your inventory and crafting menus can be challenging at first, and there is a learning curve when figuring out which buttons to use in said menus and at your crafting table. After you have overcome this, however, the controls become second nature and you can focus on the game at hand
A lot has been made about the multiplayer component in the Xbox 360 version of Minecraft, and this is one of the areas where the game both succeeds and stumbles. The local multiplayer allows for up to four players to enjoy the game in split-screen, which you’ll quickly get used to despite it being a bit jarring at first. The online component also works quite well, with easy “drop in, drop-out” mechanics that makes it easy to join a game and start building. The drawback is mainly relative to what the PC offers, since the Xbox 360 version does not have dedicated servers.
If you want to play in a world that a friend created, they need to be online and playing at the same time. Likewise, the quoted PC connectivity does not appear to be operational at the time of this review, as no option to search for PC servers is even available. For the time being, I recommend limiting your expectations to playing over Xbox Live.