Platform: Xbox - XBLA
Release Date: 09/05/2012
Download on XBLA
Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition Review
Minecraft, in it’s various forms, has been available on PC and Mac since 2009 as an alpha build. With it’s ‘full release’ in November 2011, it seems as though this wonderfully simple yet intricate game has been around forever. Now with a cult following, a rather rich developer, and a yearly Minecon Expo, what more could Mojang possibly achieve with the title?
Aside from the updates every now and then; adding in little surprises, or fixing bugs, there isn’t a great deal that needs doing to Minecraft to improve it. So many mods are available to download, including skins for your character and texture packs for landscape variation (my favourite at present being one designed around XBLA game, Fez), that you can dramatically change your gaming experience in an instant, and get sucked into the make-believe crafting world all over again.
The only way to really build on the foundations of Mojang’s success would be to conquer the console market. Microsoft have been given sole publishing rights, and Minecraft can, for the first time, be enjoyed by the millions of us who fiddle with themselves over their beloved Xbox 360.
So, what is Minecraft? Well a quick break-down would be this: it’s a crafting game. There is no particular aim, just make things and stay alive at night, as there are certain little bad guys that will try and blow you up. Knock down trees, mine for stone, iron, precious metals and gems, and create a glorious home for yourself with the materials. You can also craft weapons, armour, furniture, gardens, and farm crops/animals… if that’s how you roll. On PC/Mac, you can create your own server and invite friends to play in the same, ever expanding world with you to construct towns, rail systems, and go on adventures. By adventures I don’t mean set quests; you make your own fun. If you run out of resources your best bet is to run in a direction until you find a big hole in the ground, which usually lead to a series of tunnels, in which you can search for said materials. It’s always more fun with a friend in tow, and servers can become ridiculously huge over time. Basically, Minecraft is whatever your imagination allows it to be.
Loading up Minecraft on my Xbox for the first time was rather exciting; not just because I’ve become crazy addicted to the game on my Mac in our Game Jar server for the past few months, but because a whole new group of my friends can now experience why I’ve been locked away in the house, basically hibernating and killing Endermen. In some respects it is the exact same game that we have grown to love, and in others it is not so much. For a beginner to the Minecraft world the Xbox version has it all; a tutorial world that teaches you the basics, which didn’t come with the PC/Mac version, and you have the option to choose a difficulty setting.
This already had me in a bit of a tizzy. I wouldn’t say I am a Minecraft veteran, or a pro by any standards as I only really picked up the game a few months ago, but for me the whole point was exploration and creativity. When you originally loaded up your first game you had no idea what to do or how to survive; without a tutorial mode you are literally thrown in at the deep-end to fend for yourself. You slowly learn how to craft things, get a feeling of achievement when you build your first shack and survive a night, and shit your pants when you get blown up by a creeper. Don’t even get me started on the first time I saw an Enderman…
With the inclusion of a tutorial – yes it will make the game more accessible to people who are new to the game (that is the point of a tutorial after all), but it takes away a bit of magic that came with the unknown. Sure, I want more people to be involved in this crafting world, and a tutorial will be the way to ensure that, but there’s something about it that dilutes the initial experience.
The same can be said for crafting; instead of trying to work out what you can and can’t make from your inventory via a crafting table, on Xbox you now have tabs and a menu system showing you everything you could possibly make, and the combinations of materials you need to do so. I spent hours on the Minecraft Wikipedia pages learning all sorts of recipes to create what I have on the server today, and that in itself was an adventure in a way. It sets off the creative ‘juices’, and your imagination goes wild with things you want to try and make when you get back into the game… not to mention learning about the alternate universes of the Nether and the End, which initially were a distant future ideal for exploration.
The Xbox version obviously has this system of crafting because it’s harder to move things around your inventory like you would with the click of a mouse, but again I feel it mutes your feeling of capability when you finally work out how to make something. That being said, it is a great way for Minecraft to now become a simple ‘pick up and play’ title, without the need to trawl through the internet for ways of making things better. It’s all laid out in front of you, and it definitely makes it welcoming.
There are a few creatable items that haven’t yet been included in the Xbox version of Minecraft, such as windowpanes and gates, but free updates will continually be available for the title, much like the PC/Mac version, to add new items and fix bugs. I also noticed that there was a lack of food and experience bars, which I thought might be because we’ve been playing on the easy setting, but it seems this is not the case when changing up to normal or hard mode.
Hopefully these will be included in an update further down the line, as food only replenishes your main health bar, and killing enemies or animals often reaps little reward. This will also mean that the enchantment tables, and the use of bookshelves around them will be redundant, and is also not included at launch. DLC will be available at some point too, and will most likely include skins, texture packs etc, and fingers crossed won’t be micro-transactioned to the hilt.
I decided it was best to review this version through the eyes of a new player to the game, so I gave the reins to Ryan for a while as he went through the tutorial and finally out into his own little world. He definitely had a great time with it, and his first encounter with night-time shook him up a bit, which was secretly what I was hoping for.
Even with the safety and knowledge you get from the tutorial level the world of Minecraft can still be a scary place, and although it holds your hand a lot more to begin with you still have to take it all on board and start from scratch when you first load up a new map. Ryan died… a lot. He made a pretty little house in the end out of wood with a little guidance from me (as I was getting twitchy), and went on his first mining trip, in which he went about ten blocks down, got scared and said “that’s enough mining for one day.”
We tried a bit of split-screen co-op, which improved things greatly for his confidence (bless him), as I could stand guard while he dug around. As I said previously, the original version is always more fun with a friend, and the same can be said for the Xbox title. Anyone can jump in and out with local co-op, which makes it great for quick adventures, or helping out with building work. The only issue I had with it was, because it was split screen, the inventory menu was tiny and I could hardly see what the items were.
After playing, and reloading the game, an update was already available. We downloaded it and went back to Ryan’s house. Upon doing so, we realised that his sign above his door has been censored. Once being the proud owner of a ‘Spangles’ Pimpin Pad – Hoes Welcome’, it now simply repeated the word ‘censored’. We giggled, as Ryan’s mischief may (or may not) have been the cause for your now repressed sign language.
You can also invite friends from your Xbox list to games too, and can at present have up to 8 players in a world. The owner of the world seems to have to be online to add people, so you can’t simply jump into a shared server like you can on PC/Mac, but once in the world you can continue from where you left off the last time you were there. Leaderboards are also created in the menu, so you can check up on your friends who play the game, and rank yourself based on how many blocks you have mined, farming, kills, and distance travelled. I’m not sure how competitive players will get in a crafting game, but you never know; it does show off just how hard you’ve worked on your world…
- Creative, inspiring, fun with friends.
- Great port of a PC game to console.
- More people get to play Minecraft!
- Crafting excitement is diluted
- Multiplayer servers are not yet accessible unless the host is online playing
- Certain items/features missing – will hopefully be added in updates
The Building Blocks of Life
Turn back the clock to the start of the last year and my gaming habits were revolving around a number of titles; World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm expansion was claiming chunks of my time, I was back in love with Team Fortress 2, and a number of big releases were bundling towards me. So, if at the start of the year you had told me that some of my favourite gaming moments of 2011 would revolve around digging up (literally) mountains of dirt and stone all in the name of adventure then I’d probably have called you daft.
I was first introduced to Minecraft by a couple of friends at university, and it wasn’t long until we were booking out meeting rooms in the library, firing up our laptops. While the rest of the student body either studied, read Facebook or stared absent minded at an empty text document we were running around building houses and blowing each other up – the latter happened quite a lot in reflection.
Minecraft continued to dominate, but as the mounting pressure of a final year of study and the dreaded dissertation loomed over-head it sadly found itself being put to one side… but it was never forgotten. For those few joyous months Minecraft was amazing; I was creating a world – sculpting the landscape as I saw fit, building towns and villages upon the mightiest peaks. Above all else it was a world where adventure was only ever a couple of blocks away.
Fast forward a few months and after some constant pestering from a friend it was time to step back into Minecraft, and boy was it good to be back. A new world awaited and as such it was now time for a new adventure to take place; houses were built, nay keeps and castles of majestic grandeur! A railroad system stretched from one side of the map to the other, and our biggest asset to date: our network of Portals, or Stargates as we affectionately called them. Simple structures began to be replaced with complex traps, mechanisms, and rather strangely we began taking to the noble art of farming. A month or two in and we’d reached the stage where going digging was something that only occurred once in a while. We were now full time farmers and only part time adventurers.
It’s a strange beast, is Minecraft, and even now there’s a difficulty in explaining exactly what it is, or for that matter, what makes it so special.
Logging in for your first time, punching some trees and then dying as soon as night arrives is an experience many will be accustomed too. It’s almost a rite of passage for any new blood trying the game for the first time. Once you survive that first night you then have a badge of honour, you wear it with pride but it’s the motivation given from earlier experiences that ensure your drive to succeed continues in fifth gear.
The desire to succeed is fuelled proportionally through the carrot on the stick mechanic, the game almost taunting the player as it displays the next valuable resource they very much desire. Part of why this mechanic works so well is that things aren’t exceptionally hard to obtain, but through dedication and persistence the rewards do come.
Perhaps it’s that word that sums it all up: rewards. Every step of the ladder you take, be it moving on from wooden tools to stone or making your first item out of diamond, everything feels like a reward and the sense of satisfaction you gain from even the most minor of accomplishments is extortionately high. In turn the sense of reward fuels the player’s desire to continue; it stirs something up in their belly like a hunger for exploration or a thirst for knowledge, which in turn helps lay part of the foundations for Minecraft’s success.
The game also takes the term open world or sandbox to a completely new level, with objectives and goals all residing firmly in the palm of the player’s hands. It’s the flexibility caused by this open ended nature that ensures the game appeals to an exceptionally broad audience, be it simulation, survival horror, action adventure and even MMORPG. The end result is that no two worlds are the same; everyone plays the game differently, each with their own unique nuances and style, Minecraft has almost reinvented the definition of sandbox and makes games like GTA and Fallout seem almost linear in comparison.
One of the more interesting design elements is the lack of any sort of tutorial. As a result you’re forced to down one or two routes, either rough it out and through sheer determination and trial and error figure things out for yourself, or you turn to the community. It’s the latter option that many people venture down with the Wiki page acting as the Holy Grail for all things Minecraft. The sense of community is exceedingly strong with the game, but it’s not just a well-stocked Wiki page that holds all the answers. YouTube is littered with thousands of videos ranging from tutorials to people showing off their colossal masterpieces.
For a game to have such a strong community feel isn’t exceptionally rare, but for an indie game…? We’re in completely new unexplored waters. It’s of my opinion that perhaps the most important aspect of Minecraft is that of the community. It may not necessarily mean getting involved with the plethora of websites and forums, it could be just yourself and one or two friends. Regardless of how far into Minecraft you entrench yourself there’s no escaping the welcoming bosom of the games player base. Without the community Minecraft just wouldn’t be what it is today, it’d be hollow, a vast emptiness of nothing… thankfully it’s anything but.
Gaming and cake have become untwined ever since Portal made the now infamous reference but in truth it’s easy to see Minecraft as a cake. It has many ingredients (many of which I’ve not touched upon) that help turn it into the delightfully moist taste sensation that it is. On their own they may be simple in appearance, but together they create something rather special… no, exceptionally special. There is no other way to describe it other than… Minecraft is, Minecraft.Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition Review,