- Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
- Developer: Mojang, 4J Studios
- ESRB Rating: “E10+" for Everyone 10 and Up
- Genre: Adventure
- Pros: Crazy addictive; satisfying gameplay; works great with a controller; the ultimate goof off game; streamlined for console, but still has plenty of secrets
- Cons: Inventory management; a couple versions behind the PC release; motion sickness sufferers beware
- Cost: 1600 MSP Compare Prices on 1600 MSP cards at Pricegrabber
- Read Minecraft PC review
All right. I'll admit it. I had never played Minecraft before the XBLA version. I'm just not a PC gamer. But I was excited to finally give it a try on XBLA. It took a few hours to really "get it", but once I did I was hooked. Minecraft is such a unique combination of adventure and exploration and strategy and resource management and construction with a little bit of RPG mixed in, but it all works really well and is some of the most addictive fun you can have on XBLA.
The concept is like this. The game randomly generates a huge open world (with mountains, water, lava, forests full of tree, deserts, ice, and more ) that you are free to explore however you want. You can build towering objects into the sky, or dig hundreds of layers underground until you reach bedrock. You explore in first-person (though you can switch to third-person, it just looks terrible and is hard to use), and find resources like wood or stone (see all block types here) so you can then build tools which allow you to mine faster in order to find better resources such as iron, gold, coal, or diamond. Then you use these new resources to build better tools and dig further. Then you use all of the materials you've collected to start building stuff. It all starts from a very simple point - finding your first resources and building your first tools - and snowballs from there. It is a huge sandbox world that you are free to do whatever you want in. There is no real overall goal. You just have to have fun.
A fantastic feature of Minecraft is that the game does feature enemies (they mostly come out at night, mostly), but you can turn the game to "Peaceful" difficulty to just eliminate the monsters entirely. This way you can build and explore without having monsters attacking you every night. Some materials you need are only found by defeating monsters, though, so at some point you have to up the difficulty and start fighting. We love this feature. It lets you have fun without any threats, but you can turn the monsters on whenever you want when you need to.
The controls are very intuitive on an Xbox 360 controller. The right trigger uses the item in your hand. The left trigger places objects like blocks on the ground. The L and R bumpers swap the item you are using. The A button jumps. B button drops the item in your hand. And the X and Y buttons open your crafting and inventory menus. The controls work great. It has to be said, though, that navigating your inventory can be kind of a pain since there are a lot of little boxes, with little tiny numbers, and if you are sitting too far away from the TV it can be hard to see.
A couple of other comments. First, Minecraft XBLA is a couple of updates off of the PC version so there are some features in the current PC version not found in the XBLA version. The good news is that the game will eventually be updated to add more stuff, but there is no real timetable on when to expect updates. Also, Kinect support is planned for the game but was not included at launch. It will also be updated in at some point.
Another note is that Minecraft is somewhat notorious for causing motion sickness and the XBLA version is no different (yeah, it made me sick as heck, what of it?). If you have suffered from videogame motion sickness in the past, take some precautions before you start playing (such as taking ginger or using SeaBand wristbands). The camera in the game bobs up and down as you move, which is the biggest cause of the problem, but other factors such as the field of view or potentially claustrophobic mineshafts you'll be creating can contribute as well. Thankfully, you can turn off the movement bob in the options, which I highly recommend if you don't want to get sick.
Minecraft XBLA offers 4-player splitscreen or 8-players on Xbox Live multiplayer. It doesn't have any matchmaking, so you can only play with people on your friends list, but that is mostly because it is far too easy to grief and ruin another players' game if you wanted to, so it is better to play with friends you can (probably) trust than some random stranger that will just mess everything up.
Graphics & Sound
The sound is also simple, but good. The music is sort of soothing and nice while the main sound effects you hear are the sound of your tools tearing apart dirt and rock. Things like water or lava make distinctive sounds that you can hear through the walls of your mines, and monsters all make unique sounds as well. The only bad part of the sound is the friendly animals all over the surface that never shut up.
Overall, Minecraft XBLA is a fantastic game that we highly recommend even at the rather steep 1600MSP ($20) price point. If you are already playing it on PC you probably don't need to invest in the game here, but if you have never played it before the XBLA version is a fine place to start. It is more intuitive than the PC version and, arguably, controls better, and will also receive regular updates to get it up to par with the PC version. It also offers great multiplayer with up to 8 players, and is just plain fun. Buy it.