Minecraft XBLA Review
- Mojang Productions
Made2Game Minecraft XBLA Review Score: 8/10
Formats: Xbox 360 (XBLA) PC
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360
Developer: 4J Studios (original by Mojang)
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Review by: James Bowden
Ah Minecraft. The little Indie game that could. The game may only have been released officially on PC last year but designer Notch's Lego-like sandbox craft-a-thon has been in the gaming eye for far longer thanks to a generous beta launch and player involved development.
The game has captured the imagination of many over this time through its combination of player freedom, abstract discovery and grounding danger. Dig around and gather blocks for your nice beach hut, sure, but make sure you've got half an ear out for the world's explosive creepers, they have a tenacity for appearing at precisely the wrong time and taking a chunk out of your new conservatory.
And now it's finally on Xbox 360. So why the long faces?
Well it turns out that Minecraft XBLA is noticably lagging behind the PC version of the same game, as what we have here is Beta version 1.6. So while PC Minecrafters climb jungle vines, have a chomping animation for food and enjoy the delights of Endermen attacks, Xbox 360 players have a little while to wait for such perks.
Not only that, but Minecraft XBLA has been noticeably neutered. One of Minecraft's biggest draws is that each world's raw geography is unique, and should you saunter to your maps edges in the PC version it will quickly crunch a few numbers to expand the map further. Go too far and things get funky, but the concept of an infinite world is one that supports the game's mantra of absolute player freedom. Play Minecraft XBLA and gone is this procedural wand work. Each Minecraft XBLA map is a locked 1000x1000 tapestry, bordered by naughty invisible barriers. That said it still goes down a helluva long way, and the maps still feel big, but again – it's noticeably brow furrowing.
Other alterations are less clear cut, but still likely to perturb the game's drove of fans. Crafting in the PC version is a game of experimentation, asking you to randomly place ingredients in a two by two or three by three grid until you can make something. Crafting in Minecraft XBLA is handled through a menu, simply have the correct ingredients and you can make the item. There's even an optional step by step tutorial and constant tooltips for XBLA gamers. Yet while these additions and alterations may cause the most zealous of PC fans to come out in boils, most PC players I have spoken to resort to the Minecraft Wiki on a frequent basis anyway, so this effectively replicates that in game and in a fashion that makes controller based navigation absolutely painless. This see-saw will tip different ways depending on one's mindset.
Yet with all that said, all those corners cut and all the chips stacked against it, why did I still spend numerous hours absolutely mesmerised by Minecraft XBLA?
Because under all the issues Minecraft XBLA manages to retain what is most key, and avoids the typical pratfalls of ports in the process.
Minecraft XBLA retains the game's soul.
There's no a real defining 'point' to Minecraft, and in this sense it is the purest of sandboxes. Your land comes with a bunch of rules and regulations - Don't go out at night, there are monsters, and if you dig there are plenty of materials – but it's a world full of ideas and tools. Of toys that clunk to the floor just waiting for your imagination to take hold. That is the spirit that Minecraft XBLA still holds onto.
This is still that same game about building a slow grasp of understanding and command over a harsh virtual environment. That same game in which you will spend your first few rain drenched nights trembling as a creeper's soulless face presses up against your window. That same game in which you can eventually construct a personal command spire from which to survey your land. Your land, full of unique overhangs, unexpected lava flows and underground waterfalls.
It's a thrilling experience - to start with nothing, fighting tooth and nail over your minute patch of land, and eventually claim ownership over it through your own twisted designs. From grandiose castles, rollercoasters and logflumes to dangerous labyrinths full of traps, blissful underground bio-domes or a quaint two story detached with private farm, it's absolutely up to you how you push yourself, and your Minecraft feels all the more meaningful for it. The real 'goal' of Minecraft then, if you must attach one, is to find order in your unique, chaotic world.
And that's still here. One hundred percent.
Yet you needn't play alone as, in what is unquestionably Minecraft XBLA's biggest coup, switching on the multiplayer is a cinch. Minecraft XBLA supports four players in split screen and eight players online, with full guest support making Minecraft XBLA a nicely open experience. This works to the game's favour as at any time you can invite friends into your single player world, meaning that work done alone is not shared exclusively through the built in Facebook photo mode but with friends at any time.
Split-Screen is the real winner though. Dropping in and out is painless, and play is smooth as melted butter. This works to the game's favour as it can help reel in would-be Minecrafters who might be less willing to have a go at the PC version based only on impressions and faced with a pay wall.
And if Minecraft XBLA really winds up being just that, a taster of the full fat PC experience, then developers 4J studios must be applauded. Some would think that stripping away so much of the game might leave Notch's designs naked and shivering but instead they stand proud, even when they are this exposed. And if that's not a testament to the game's core design triumphs then I don't know what is.
Minecraft XBLA then, for all its cutbacks, is still a mesmerizing, absorbing, affecting and time-consuming experience. So while Minecraft XBLA might not be the definitive way to experience this Indie masterpiece, and while you should get it on PC if you can, it's far from the complete write off that many would damn it as. The soul burns bright, and that is why this is still a great way to discover why a Creeper's slither sends shivers up many a gamer's spine.
Words by James Bowden (Twitter: @Dalagonash)
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