- Minecraft XBLA Edition
- CLR [rating:4.5]
Release Date: 9th May 2012
Price: 1600 Microsoft Points
Platform: xbox360 Live Arcade
Developer: 4J Studios
Genre: Open world sandbox
As a long time player of the PC edition of Minecraft, it was difficult for me to go into the xbox360 rendition of the faux 16-bit world without immediately noticing everything that was different, that was missing and that was inferior. The PC development of Minecraft is constantly progressing, with snapshots released weekly including improved game mechanics as well as new features. The xbox360 release is currently stuck steadfast in one of the early beta versions of the PC game, and while updates are promised to close the gap between the two for now, xbox360 players must go without some of Minecraft’s better features. Bearing these upcoming updates in mind, I decided it was more important to evaluate Minecraft XBLA on its own merits, rather than what its older brother had achieved before it.
Minecraft is an open world sandbox game which sees the player dropped in the middle of a desert, or a forest, or a jungle, depending on what the map generator has drawn on this occasion. Everything is comprised of blocks – the trees, the earth, the mountains, the lakes. By mining the blocks (whether it be with your fists or a pick axe) the player can collect resources and craft them into new, more useful objects. Blocks can be placed in the world to build homes, walls, statues – anything that takes the player’s imagination.
Currently, the xbox360 version features a “Survival” mode, where the player must find their own resources and stay alive in a world filled with zombies, skeletons and giant spiders. The monsters (or “mobs”) can be toggled off for the players who wish to build undisturbed, but gameplay is given an added sense of urgency when you know the minute the sun goes down the undead will be knocking at your door.
Staying above ground won’t keep the player going for very long; although wooden huts and wheat farms are nice and twee, beneath the rock lies the more coveted resources: ore, particularly in the forms of iron, gold, Redstone and diamond. Redstone provides the player with the ability to place conducting wires between blocks, giving them the ability to create circuits which control block behaviours. Used correctly, Redstone has the capability to build fully functioning computer systems within Minecraft – many players have created in-game printers and even scientific calculators using what amounts to several kilometres of in-game Redstone circuitry. For those looking for a more straightforward gameplay experience, simply mining for iron, gold and diamond to smelt into weapons, equipment and armour will suffice.
While the xbox360 map is limited to only 1024×1024 blocks, there is still plenty of exploring to be done both above and below ground. Animals roam the land and can be killed for either food or leather, or ridden with saddles if you’re that kind of person. Villages can also be stumbled upon, although they are currently uninhabited. Beneath the stone lie lava pools and underground lakes, dungeons and hidden caves rich with ores. It’s a dangerous landscape dotted with pitfalls – digging directly above or below you can lead to a sudden and unpleasant death, which takes all your items from you and sends you back to your original spawn point empty handed. Adventurers who have stacked up their loot should proceed with caution back to their home base to store their goods safely.
In itself, Survival Mode is a fun challenge with its tiered difficulty (including hardcore mode, which deletes your save upon death – a terrifying prospect for many players) and thriving game world. The challenge of keeping the player’s avatar, Steve, alive is one which offers hours of gameplay.
But the basic act of survival is really the bare bones of Minecraft; anyone can build a mud hut and hide in it when the skeletons come a-knocking. Minecraft’s true beauty comes from its creative elements, and while the xbox360 version does not offer a Creative Mode in the same way that the PC version does, Survival Mode still offers enough resources for the player to build impressive if not entirely beautiful structures. Minecraft does not stop at being a mere game, it becomes an entire form of self-expression as players painstakingly build their homes and their fortresses, always in the knowledge that at any moment a Creeper might come along and blow the entire thing up.
Creepers are the Boogeymen of Minecraft, with even Veteran players quaking in their boots at the familiar hissing sound that precedes their self-destruction. Pig models gone wrong (no, really) the Creepers have become iconic in Minecraft lore and “Creeper-Proofing” one’s home is of the utmost urgency for anyone who feels particularly fond of their hand-crafted abode. Upon sighting the player, Creepers will approach silently and then hiss once they are within range of the target before exploding and destroying all nearby terrain and causing the player a staggering amount of damage; in close quarters, Creepers are powerful enough to instantaneously kill a player. Much feared, they give the Survival world a much needed sense of urgency – with zombies running around, your life is at stake. With Creepers, your entirely home and livelihood could be flattened in seconds.
The world of Minecraft is one which is easy to sink hundreds of hours into without even realising, but the rewards are plentiful and almost tangible. The affection with which one can come to regard one’s own home in the Minecraft world is testament to how powerful the game really is – it gives you the tools and asks you to survive. You can do exactly this, or you can go for gold and really live in this vibrant, restless universe. The inclusion of drop-in drop-out multiplayer allows for friends to build settlements together, wage war on each other and have fun without the hassle of purchasing and maintaining servers, a costly and sometimes difficult process required of the PC version. Playing alone is all well and good, but humans are social animals even when isolated in a block-eat-block world. Whether collaborative or competitive, multiplayer expands the Minecraft universe exponentially.
Minecraft is a must-have XBLA title, and is perhaps the best the arcade has to offer alongside Fez, Bastion and IloMilo. It’s engaging, creative and incredibly – I hate this word, but I’m going to use it – innovative. Ignore the cheap cash-ins and knock offs that have flooded the Live marketplace up until now, because you can finally enjoy the real thing.