Architects, Apply Within
How do you go about reviewing a game that has already been around for three years; that millions of players have bought and spent countless hours with; that has no plot, no characters, no events to really speak of; that has literally limitless possibilities, and has earned an equal amount of love and respect from a fanbase spanning the world? Why, you review it as if you’d never heard of the game, and as if you had never played it before (which, in my case, is the 100% truth).
Minecraft makes its Xbox 360 debut, and as such is the crowning title in Microsoft’s Arcade NEXT promotion, following titles like Trials Evolution, Bloodforge, and Fable Heroes. Developed for the ‘box in conjunction with 4J Studios, Mojang’s blockbuster time-killer is set to enthrall a whole new audience with what it does best: let you build whatever you want to.
Visually, Minecraft 360 doesn’t trail its PC counterpart in any way, which is to say it is just as gloriously blocky and charmingly last-last-gen as the original. Which isn’t to say anything negative about its aesthetic; after all, from the very moment you see your first building standing in front of you, it’s literally the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, perfect in a way that any fresh-out-of-the-oven parents can relate to. And when you scale that first mountaintop to gaze over the chunky rows of land stretching out before you, it’s hard not to take a deep, chest-swelling intake of pride, as your mind’s eye roams over the land…your literal sandbox!
The game’s crafting interface has been streamlined; no longer is it necessary to place items into the crafting window in certain sequences and patterns. Instead, opening the crafting menu – either the basic window or an expanded version at a crafting table – lets you select an item you want to craft from an extensive list. Items you don’t have the necessary materials for are grayed out, and you can toggle through descriptions for each item as well as get information on what materials are required to create it. It is worthwhile to note that not all items from the PC version are included in the 360 game at this time; some items, for example glass panes, aren’t craftable at present, but could easily be added through later patches.
Carried over from the PC original is the option for each player to set a difficulty level suitable to his or her gameplay style. If you like the thrill and danger (and bottomless frustration) of having to watch over your shoulder in dark caves for randomly spawning skeletons and bats, and keeping your head on a swivel in even the broadest of daylight for the destructive blast of Creepers, start a game on ‘Normal’ or ‘Hard’ difficulty setting. If, on the other hand, you prefer to focus all your brain juices into the gathering of resources and unfettered construction of architectural marvels untold, a ‘Peaceful’ mode eliminates all threats of enemies, hunger, or other damage, turning you into a nonstop mining machine.
After suffering several explosive Creeper encounters near my own humble abode (none of which did much more than scratch my walls or blow out a few windows), I was convinced to go ‘Peaceful’ when a Creeper somehow got into a tunnel I had dug, which ran down through the walls of my house and underneath it to a hidden exit, shredding my entire house – along with my dignity and patience – into so many tattered fragments. I vowed then and there that I would aspire to the greatest wonders of construction the likes of which my custom-generated world, Schnitzelopolis, had never seen! So, mustering my manliest machismo, I made sure to bump that difficulty slider as far into friendly territory as it allowed. It’s been a lonely in my lands since then, with no skittering arachnids to pounce on me, no moaning zombie hordes to accost me at every turn. Such is the price of creative genius!
The Sky’s the Limit
Which brings me to what is guaranteed to be Minecraft‘s greatest draw: its unfettered creative freedom. Fear not, PC veterans, for the addictive nature of the original is alive and well in its Xbox incarnation. For those new to the fold, take it from a recent Minecraft convert: The ability to construct whatever comes into your mind, and to create your own world literally from scratch, with no reason or justification other than the sheer joy of creating, will send your mind into a guaranteed tailspin! Within moments of digging into my untouched lands, I conceived such grand notions, and my mind would not rest until I had satisfied urges long ignored by going for broke and building, building, building. Houses, tunnels, bridges, farmland, boat docks, swimming pools all were erected before I knew what hit me. My current project, an over-sized lighthouse built on a remote spit of land, has been a project days in the making; after hours of toil, I’m proud to say I’ve constructed a basement I can be proud of – onward to the first floor!
The building interface is similar in look the PC’s Minecraft, with an on-screen button bar layout into which various tools and building materials can be placed from your inventory. Instead of pressing number buttons, the left and right bumper have taken the job of navigating the button bar, while the analog sticks control the movement and camera. Stationary crosshairs dictate block placement, and you can attach to any visible surface that’s within proximity. The only complaint I have here – and trust me, it is a small one – is an occasional hiccup during mining, when one block was destroyed and it took fractions of a second for the game to respond to mining the just-uncovered block behind my crosshairs. Sometimes, a minute camera movement was required to kickstart the mining process. This complaint, though, is so minor as to oftentimes be completely unnoticeable.
There are some additional perks to note for 360 owners, such as the ability to play cooperatively with others via Xbox Live or in a split-screen local session. Interestingly enough, Kinect compatibility has also been advertised, though what I’m most eagerly anticipating, apart from regular updates and additional textures and items, is the ability for 360 users to share creations with each other, as well as trade them with PC gamers, as the two versions have reportedly been built to cooperate cross-platform. Being able to take advantage of the years of building experience of PC veterans sounds like an unbelievable opportunity!
The Final Verdict
It is rare that a game, especially one so simple in concept and presentation, can consume all my waking time with such fervor. In fact, after only a few days, I’ve begun to map out the next day’s building blueprints in my head, and fallen asleep to Minecraft-induced dreams of tireless mining and building. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to everybody’s own interpretation, but one thing’s certain: Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition is here to cement itself on a brand new audience, and is well worth falling prey to. Here’s to feverish obsessions with laying building foundations, sloping roof overhangs just so, and whatever other whims Notch’s creation will inspire you to!