What can I say about Minecraft that hasn’t been said already? In the few years since the alpha builds began making the headlines, we’ve seen all manner of stories, articles, and videos about crazy creations built by the ever-growing legion of fans. For a game that’s so basic in its concept and so simple in its design, Minecraft has kept the attention of gamers for many times longer than even the biggest of blockbusters. Now, finally, the phenomenon has arrived on Xbox 360, and console owners the world over can see what the fuss is all about.
So what is the fuss all about? Its probably about the fact that Minecraft is not a “game” in the traditional sense of the word. A game has rules, objectives, and a way to win. You’ll find none of these while exploring the blocky landscapes and building your ultimate dream-homes, as the world of Minecraft goes on for as long as your imagination can cope. No missions, objectives, quests, tasks, or boss fights will you encounter, just an unending landscape to shape and mold with the tools you make.
Ok, enough philosophical B.S. – I’m sure most of you are already familiar with the concept of Minecraft. If not, it’s quite simple, really – you mine materials, craft them into other materials, then build things. You can make a scale model of the Starship Enterprise or construct a fully working computer if you want, but many will just build houses, towns, railways, and various other real-world structures. The big question is, how well does all this translate from the PC onto home console?
Let’s get this out of the way first – Since the title has been rolled out slowly and constantly updated, Minecraft on PC has never really been “finished”. Items are added, bugs and glitches fixed (or not), and new rules find their way into the world. It’s clear that Microsoft wanted a more polished releases, though, and they’ve spent a while getting things right before allowing the game to grace their online store. Unfortunately, this means Minecraft 360 is based on a build from many months back, and is missing many of the recent additions to the PC version.
It would take a long time to list every absent item, but some of the more obvious ones include the lack of a hunger bar, XP bar, and the ability to sprint. You’ll also find no potions, enchanting, or pistons – meaning no secret cave entrances that appear as if from nowhere, and no cleverly-designed redstone lifts. While console players new to the franchise won’t miss these items and aspects, those already familiar with the game may be a little disappointed. The game is also missing a character creator, and lacks many of the function key abilities from its PC counterpart – those who took a lot of screenshots or used F3 to check their location within the world will have to do without.
Of course, the biggest change to Minecraft on the 360 is the way it handles multiplayer servers. While the PC version was kind of a pain, as you had to rent server space from a separate company, this meant that your world was always online. If you had many people contributing to its creation, any one of them could hop in or out, no matter who else was available. On the console version, it’s a lot more user-friendly – your world is saved locally and you simply join each others games, but this means that the host must remain online or everyone else gets kicked off. On the one hand, it’s a much simpler way of handling multiplayer, but since your inventory isn’t carried over when you join a friend’s game, it discourages putting too much effort into their world. We also won’t see the sprawling cities and massive railway networks found in the original, as each Minecraft map on 360 is extremely small when compared to the near-infinite space available on rented servers.
Not all of the changes are bad, though. Many of the aspects that made the PC version a little inaccessible have been adjusted to make a much more console-like experience. For instance, there is now a tutorial mode that teaches you the basics and gives you hints on surviving that difficult first night. You’ll also see tips throughout the game that tell you what all the items and materials are for, meaning a lot less consultation of guides and wikis for the player. This is carried over to the new crafting interface – a simple list of items and the materials necessary to construct them, rather than the old 3×3 grid found previously. Of course, some may say that this destroys a little of the crafting fun, but dragging items into that grid would have been a pain without a mouse, anyway.
Other console additions include a new split-screen mode for local multiplayer, the fact that you start each game with a map, and the inclusion of online leaderboards. Want to know how many blocks you’ve mined, enemies you’ve killed, and food items you’ve farmed in relation to everyone else? Well, now you can! These are all nice additions, but don’t really make up for all the exclusions in the console version.
Let’s not forget, though, that Minecraft on PC has been constantly updated, so we may see many changes make their way onto the 360 as time goes by. Unfortunately, due to Microsoft’s relatively strict approval process, I fear that updates may not arrive as quickly as some may like. Will we get that character creator and support for alternate texture packs and mods? Maybe at some point, but don’t hold your breath. We’re also promised some Kinect functionality, which could be fantastic, but I’m not sure if it’ll arrive before people have grown tired of the game and moved onto something else.
Ultimately, though, no matter what’s been added or left out, the basic fun of Minecraft hasn’t changed in its move to console. The thrill of discovering diamonds, the urge to build bigger and better structures to show off, the moment of fear when you hear a creeper’s hiss directly behind you – all of these aspects have carried over very nicely, and should keep many new players entertained for long into the future. As for whether you should choose this one over the PC version, I‘d have to say no. While the 360 release may be a little easier to enjoy for casual gamers, the added features in the original still push it over the top. However, if this is your only option, it’s definitely worth considering.
Minecraft is a really hard game to score, as you only get out what you put in. For many, the idea of an open, rules-free realm of creation will be boring, but those with a little imagination and a lot of free time will find endless possibilities at their fingertips. From castles to railroads and deserts to jungles, the world is your sandbox – have some fun with it, and remember, it’s hip to be square!