The PC phenomenon Minecraft has finally made its way to consoles debuting as the last game of Microsoft’s Arcade Next promotion. For those of you who haven’t heard of Minecraft, it is an open world experience that may be the most literal definition of a sandbox game.
Minecraft is devoid of any structure or narrative. Instead it places you in a randomly generated world and lets you do whatever you want within the boundaries of the game. The pixilated world is made up of millions of different blocks for you to interact with. Each block varies as a particular type of resource. Wooden blocks can be used to build crude tools and shelters while stone blocks can be used to create strong walls and armour.
Using the different resource blocks to build structures is the main draw of Minecraft. The only limit to what can be built is the player’s imagination. In my short time playing I’ve created simple log cabins to sprawling castles that reach above the clouds. While the process of mining resources and then constructing buildings one block at a time appears tedious, it scratches an itch I haven’t experienced since I stopped playing with Lego. The notion of experimenting with different resources or objects to see the result of their combination is another fun mechanic that adds to the exploratory nature of Minecraft.
While you could potentially play Minecraft as a nomad, building even the crudest shelters is an essential activity. When the sun goes down, deadly creatures spill out of the deep dark caves of the world with the sole intention of hunting you down. Giant spiders, zombies and skeletons are a few of the monsters you need to worry about. The most dangerous is the creeper who will sneak up behind you and explode, potentially devastating whatever structure you have been building.
Night isn’t the only time you will have to worry about these creatures. The best resources are located underground, which often means exploring subterranean caverns where these monsters dwell. Despite its heavy pixelized aesthetic the addition of subterranean caverns, vast oceans, deserts and sprawling forests make the randomized world of Minecraft feel like a living breathing world. The music is also quite compelling with the tempo making whatever activity you happen to be doing seem worthwhile.
The Xbox 360 version of Minecraft is very different from its PC counterpart. While many updates are promised, at launch the 360 version is missing some of the improvements of later versions of the PC incarnation as well as many of the mods. There is no enchantment or levelling system present whatsoever. The actual process of crafting items is also completely different between the two versions. On the PC you would have to put each item into a 3x3 window to bring them into existence. With the Xbox 360 version you simply need to have the required items in your inventory then choose which item to create. Having a list of the items required and how they can be combined is a great addition to Minecraft and avoids the need to go to an online resource to figure out how to construct something.
One of the sacrifices the Xbox 360 edition of Minecraft makes is the amount players per server. Some of the most epic creations on the PC required teams of dozens of individuals. On the Xbox 360 the total player count is capped at eight. The Xbox 360 version uses a peer to peer server system as opposed to the dedicated servers of the PC version. While there can only be eight players per server, Minecraft 360 supports four player splitscreen. You can have four friends build an expansive stronghold from the same couch.
This version of Minecraft also boasts a few features that are superior to any of its predecessors. It includes a great tutorial mode that walks players through the basic rules of Minecraft and the process of building their first shelter. The user interface has also been redone and will continually pop up to give players the specifics of new blocks. These new additions are a great way to introduce new players to the vast and complex world of Minecraft.
While there are some differences between to the PC and Xbox 360 versions, Minecraft is on consoles and it is still a lot of fun. The controls and inventory system work well on the Xbox 360 with the only downside being the reduced player count per server. I didn’t anticipate becoming as engrossed and addicted as I have, with Minecraft becoming one of the few games I think about while I’m not playing it. Minecraft is unlike anything else available on the Xbox Live Marketplace and if you enjoy creating, or destroying it is a game you must pick up.
This review is based on a downloadable copy of the 360 version of Minecraft.