Game Review: ‘Minecraft: XBox 360 Edition’ for XBLA


To say Minecraft: XBox 360 Edition is already a success is an understatement. The game literally became profitable within the first hour of sales and boasted 400,000 users in its first 24 hours, breaking all XBLA records including the one set by fellow Arcade Next member Trials Evolution with its quarter million first day sales. But does commercial success equal a great game? In the case of Minecraft: XBox 360 Edition, the two are one in the same.

Gameplay

For those who haven’t played Minecraft yet in either its PC or mobile incarnations yet, the game is an open world where players must mine resources around them in order to craft tools and build structures including buildings, mine cart pathways and increasingly complex machines. On the surface, Minecraft looks incredibly simple as players only need to hack away at or place objects in the world around them.

But there are tons of layers of depth. Players literally start in a world with nothing but their fists to punch out sections of a tree. Once they have some wood, they start constructing tools to make these tasks easier. They also can craft weapons and armor to help defend themselves from the world around them.

This leaves players with two main options for gameplay. Exploration or creation. Inevitably since the XBox 360 Edition isn’t on the same version as the PC game which features a builder focused Creative mode which basically gives players a never ending chest of the blocks they wish to build with, the creator players must still search through the world for the assets they need to construct the wildest objects of their imagination.

It has been promised that updates will bring the game up to speed with the PC version. While this might not mean anything to new players, those who have been spoiled by the nearly limitless playstyle of the PC version may be disappointed at first, leaving quite possibly the only negative aspect of Minecraft: XBox 360 Edition’s launch.

A major improvement to the game, in addition to the ability to use an XBox 360 controller as opposed to a mouse and keyboard, is the crafting system. In the PC version, many players had the game open on one screen and either a wiki or app open on a tablet or screen next to them to remember not only the items necessary to craft other items but the exact same layout that they needed to be placed in Minecraft’s 3×3 crafting grid. In the XBox 360 version, players open their crafting table to find the full list of craftable items and has the game automatically lay them out in the proper order on the crafting table to complete the process. This was possibly done because not all gamers would have the same readily available access to the internet next to their 360 as they do on their PC and it would be frustrating for new players to try to figure out the proper recipes.

Also new to Minecraft: XBox 360 Edition is the multiplayer connectivity of XBox Live. While the game limits itself to a maximum of 8 players together at once, it is much easier for people to find games to jump in on through the use of their friends list. While it is disappointing that players won’t be able to recreate full Hunger Games styled deathmatches (a recent trend on YouTube), this is the first time that multiple players can access the game together on the same device, with drop in and out split screen play. Some players can mine while others watch their back and still another can be reinforcing the wall that was destroyed by a creeper that got just a little too close.

Story and Presentation

Quite simply, there is no story to Minecraft: XBox 360 Edition. Staying true to its PC counterpart, players are thrown into a world (with only an optional tutorial to teach them what to do to survive) and given the option to do whatever they want in it. Think of it as giving a kid a box of Legos but instead of just dumping it on the floor, the kid would need to carefully choose which bricks he wanted to pull off the pile to rearrange. One interesting aspect to the game’s survival is its day and night cycles. During the day, the world is filled with sheep, pigs, chickens and cows which can all be killed for resources.

At night though, zombies, undead archers, spiders and the infamous creepers come out and attack the player if they are not protected. These enemies also can be found when players begin tunneling down in to the world in search of better materials like iron ore, gold and diamonds. If a player doesn’t have a house to keep themselves safe in (since as dangerous as they are, zombies cannot figure out how to open doors thankfully) they must survive until sun up which results in zombies and archers bursting into flames.

But no, there’s no story to follow. No epic quest to complete. Not even a damsel in distress. While there are achievements in Minecraft: XBox 360 Edition to help indicate some level of “progress”, the game really just presents itself as an open toy box for players to do whatever they want in. Some players pick a direction and explore until the ends of the map. Others get grand structures in their head and start building. Some want to see what the depths of the world may contain and start digging.

Graphics and Sound

Minecraft could be credited as being one of the games that helped bring back retro as its own art style. The game incorporates a classic 8-bit feel in a 3D world and makes it a factor in the gameplay as well. Everything in Minecraft: XBox 360 Edition is measured in a basic block unit. There aren’t smooth sloping mountainsides or smooth curving valleys. Just like a basic block, there are hard edges to everything in sight. This simple “block” design gives Minecraft a look and feel distinctly of its own, which has become a part of the game’s signature charm. Currently the XBox edition’s world size is limited to 1024 by 1024 but this may be expanded in future updates.

The music of Minecraft: XBox 360 Edition is incredibly peaceful and relaxing. Almost like a Zen garden where players craft the world around them, the music helps ease a player through their Minecraft experience. This is a great contrast to the now infamous hissing noise created by approaching creepers, the monster so recognized and reviled as its explosive nature can decimate any nearby structure. As simple as the creeper or any other enemies’ sound effects are, they are all highly recognizable and can signal a player quickly to the level of threat they are about to encounter.

Overall

Part of what makes Minecraft special is that it started as a somewhat barebones experience on the PC and updated itself and grew with its community. According to both Microsoft and Mojang, there will be updates to get the XBox 360 version updated in line with the PC. Alongside that is a game that encourages people to not just use an imagination but requires them to have one. Instead of being guided down hallways, you have to go into Minecraft: XBox 360 Edition either knowing what you want to do or getting a hit of inspiration along the way. People talk about “sandbox” games where a player gets free roam to “do what they want” but everyone who ever loved the sandbox when they were kids loved building the little world around them and becoming emerged in it and Minecraft does just that.

 

XBox Live Arcade (Also available on PC, iOS and Android)

Developer: 4J Studios

Publisher: Mojang

Price: 1600 Microsoft Points ($20.00)

Score: 8.0

 

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