XBLA Review: Minecraft

Creativity and creation is not a new theme in gaming. On the contrary: the ability to build your own world has been the fundamental building block upon which many of gaming’s most successful franchises have been constructed. SimCity, Civilization, Rollercoaster Tycoon and Tropico have demonstrated that gamers adore the ability to build worlds according to their own desires. These franchises have grown in a remarkable number of ways, accentuating either complexity, realism, or accessibility, taking advantage of technology to demonstrate amazing visuals and features, offering gamers a plethora of options to build whatever kind of universe they can imagine.

It is into this landscape that Minecraft makes its mark. And a cursory look at Minecraft would say that a hope for a successful release would be lunacy. The game is technologically inept- ugly, simplistic, and buggy. While playing, I’ve experienced enemies getting stuck inside objects, object pop-in over long distances, some weird texture issues, and even a few hard locks to my Xbox 360. It is possible in the game to open a portal to “The Nether.” Careful stepping through this portal, though: it froze my system about half the time. That meant that if I wanted to get into the portal, harvest some things, and come back, I’d only be successful one time in four.

Despite my problems, I still avoided mining straight down like this guy.

Despite these warts, Minecraft has managed to charm millions of fans with its mix of a cup exploration, a dash of crafting, and a pinch of survival horror, plus an addition no one else has been able to achieve on any meaningful level- co-operative multiplayer.  There it is: Minecraft’s great success. Instead of merely showing off my creations to my friends, I can draw them in, make them a part of it. That participation makes the level construction less an act of mental masturbation and more a social interaction, a cooperative exercise.

There’s a part of me that wonders if Minecraft is the Kane & Lynch of building sims. If you’ll recall, Kane and Lynch was a very average game that met decent success because it was among the first of the wave of cooperative shooters. It wasn’t good by any means, but it did happen to offer that cooperative element that gamers crave. It doesn’t particular matter how good a game happens to be; gaming with friends is innately fun.  And when Kane & Lynch 2 launched, in an environment with a plethora of competitors, the game bombed. Even the first game was awful, but it filled a need, and people bought it, not out of its own greatness, but to fulfill their cooperative desires. There’s no doubt it my mind that someone could design a better cooperative building simulation than Minecraft. Fixing the rudimentary visuals, numerous technical flaws, and improving the overly simplistic combat (among other improvements) would result in a much better game. But, right now, Minecraft is what there is.

I have enjoyed Minecraft. I find the music incredibly soothing after a hard day, and mining is the perfect mindless task. The first day in a new world, as you struggle from dawn till dusk to build some sort of protection before night falls and the monsters come, is a wonderful and compelling experience. And the game’s new take on zombies (which explode when they touch you) shows that even in the most overused of mediums, there may be some material left. And mining through the underground, to find either a hidden lake, a deposit of diamonds, or a flow of lava (RUN!), is an experience that can pull you in for hours. Wandering about with a friend in the dark makes for an interesting exercise in combat (though a good miner with the best weapons will make short of any of the enemies).

Totally built this house to show off my creativity. Yeah… all me… I swear…

Minecraft is a ground floor game. Its greatest credit is inventing a genre for which there was untapped demand. In an era where all games seem to be remakes of other games, Minecraft breaks ground and gives gamers something they didn’t even know they wanted. While not an ideal effort, the game certainly offers a template for success which I’m certain others will endeavor to duplicate. And as they do, I’m certain Minecraft will be relegated to that special place in which games like Goldeneye abide. They shall be loved in memory, but falling to the wayside in the test of time.

Look! Burning Man!

Pros

  • Cooperative mining and building
  • Easy to get into
  • Exploration; soothing

Cons

  • Technical flaws
  • Ugly
  • Weak combat

4 / 5

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Author: Tony Odett View all posts by
A member of the Perfectly Sane Show crew and Vagary.tv's Features Editor, Tony brings the smart and funny (and the rapine and pillage...). Also known as The Strategy Gamer, Tony declares it his duty to get as much coverage as possible for what should be everyone's most loved genre.
  • sophieblabla

    i love minecraft!!!