Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition review

By Steve Watts, May 08, 2012 9:00am PDT

Minecraft has been crafted on the PC through numerous updates to refine and evolve the game into its current state. We reviewed it when the game was officially released, and since then that process and the resulting changes have continued. For this console version of the game, Mojang Specifications and 4J Studios started with an earlier version of the PC game than what's out today, so it lacks some of the latest features. In addition, adapting the design to the platform required some streamlining. The resulting, Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition captures the game's general tone, and the most important elements are still present, but the end result feels a bit watered down.

For the uninitiated, Minecraft is a sandbox resource-gathering and building game. It operates on a natural day-night cycle with the catch that when the sun sets, dangerous Monsters come out to attack. They are easy enough to avoid, though, with a simple shelter. Slowly but surely that refuge can be turned into a large fortress of your own design. Creating monumental structures from scratch is where the game really shines, making it more of a virtualized toy box than a game with a driving plot or goals.

The most striking change to the console version impacts its core design. Half of Minecraft's identity (and name) is in the word "craft," and the newly streamlined interface is more a curse than a blessing. Rather than an open grid in which materials are slotted to discover recipes, the crafting interface lays out everything that can possibly be crafted clearly from the start. Lacking a material will make the menu option gray and impossible to craft, but the game still shows the recipe, the item's purpose, and all the materials needed.

This new method isn't all bad. Displaying the recipe up-front gives clarity to how much of a material should be gathered. Explaining exactly what an item does makes it easier to prioritize a build order for items that require use of a hierarchy. In short, it cuts out some of the busywork.

But it kills the sense of discovery in the PC game that comes from stumbling upon a new crafting recipe and puzzling out a new item's use. It's a shame to know that console players will miss out on that. The pace of play certainly increases, but for a game built around meticulous experimentation, it's a bizarre choice. I'd have liked the option, at least, to use the manual crafting interface -- perhaps the simple recipes could appear after I had found them myself.

Other changes were less extreme. The game lacks a Creative Mode in its current state. What PC players know as "Survival" is the only play mode. (Players wanting a peaceful experience can set the difficulty level accordingly.) The worlds are also more contained, with actual end-points instead of infinite space. It won’t take too long to run into invisible walls and endless ocean. The auto-generated worlds are still more than large enough to accommodate all the necessary mineral and material types, though.

The game still captures much of the magic that makes Minecraft so special. It's just as fun to plan out a complicated structure and beam with pride as it grows into completion, brick by solitary brick. It still shines when diving deep into the earth equipped with nothing more than a pickaxe and some torches, finding rare ores to build better equipment. Even if a bit simplified for my tastes, the heart and soul of Minecraft beats, albeit in a somewhat different body.

Some of the new additions are even improvements. The game adds a Tutorial that walks through the basics of crafting and surviving the first night. Simply knowing the fundamental idea behind the game is more fun than learning through frustrating, repeated death. And it's buoyed by the addition of local co-op and Xbox Live. The multiplayer interface is simple and straight-forward. Bringing other players into a game is as easy as having them pick up another controller, or inviting them over Xbox Live -- a far cry from the PC version, which still relies on an obtuse method of creating a server. And while playing with a 360 controller can make item selection a bit more time-consuming, it feels natural enough to pick up.

Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition improves on the original in some key usability areas, and even retains most of the game's identity in the platform switch. While its streamlined pieces might make it not quite up to replacing the latest PC version, and I would advise those players to stay put, this is a decent console entry point with some sharp ideas of its own.


[This Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition review is based on a XBLA code of the game provided by the publisher, Microsoft Game Studios.]

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