If the runaway success of its cheap knockoffs is anything to go by, Xbox 360 owners have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Minecraft Xbox 360 Edition. Now that it’s finally arrived with a feature-set that’s considerably pared down compared to the PC release version, and costing ten times more than the Indie imitators, Minecraft might have its work cut out trying to justify the 1600 MSP asking price.
In case this is your first time visiting a videogame website, Minecraft is a PC indie sensation that deposits gamers into a fully malleable blocky world, allowing them to mine for resources, and craft survival supplies, but other than that, there is no discernible objective. However, at nighttime in this idiosyncratically presented world, monsters will emerge to kill players who haven’t yet found shelter, which will quickly present the first short term goal: survive.
The sense of wonder and sheer possibility that Minecraft offers is intoxicating in a way unlike any other game. Those first few moments of frantically scrabbling around in the dirt with your bare hands, struggling to survive the night will be regarded by many as a watershed moment in gaming history. It’s an experience that takes on all the more salience once you’ve established a comfortable foothold – from the top floor of the opulent tower I built myself, I like to look out on the plains I started from, with naught but my bare hands.
Minecraft will instill in you a sense of empowerment that no other game can. It’s one thing to be able to plant and fell trees, but to flatten the very mountain on which they reside, and replace it with a quarry? That’s a Molyneuxian ideal right there, and one that gives rise to the kind of effusive enthusiasm that made Minecraft go viral in the first place.
The Xbox 360 version is a few months behind the PC version’s ever-evolving feature-set, but it could be argued that this is a more ‘pure’ experience. ‘Missing’ features like combat XP and enchantment are extraneous to the bread-and-butter of mining and crafting, and while the hunger-system adds a compelling reason to occasionally leave the mines, it also erodes the zen-like majesty of mining for hours.
Controls have been sensibly mapped to the 360 controller (even if having to toggle a button to stop descending a ladder is as inelegant as it gets), and the console crafting interface now lists every creatable item, and the resources required to build them. As much as this undermines the sense of serendipitous discovery that characterizes the initial hours of the PC version, it also adds a sense of purpose. Need to build a dispenser? Pull up the list, see what ingredients you need, and then go into the wilderness to acquire them. Let’s face it; an online wiki was previously serving up what has now been baked into the console version.
Another major win for the console plebeians is the multiplayer integration. At any point, up to three other local players can press start and join in and disconnect without disrupting the experience. The split screen works remarkably well with no apparent impact on performance, and the simplistic graphics are perfectly legible for the most part. Online multiplayer entails joining another player’s game (sadly leaving all your gear in your own world), but it’s where the real fun is to be had.
I’ve whittled away countless evenings burrowing through the game worlds of my fellow-subterranean cohorts, and I’ve found it best to play in groups so there’s more chance that somebody will notice how many real-life hours have slipped by. Hardcore PC gamers may turn up their nose at the lack of persistent server-support, but eliminating the need to futz around with port-forwarding and firewalls means that more gamers will get to experience the simple pleasure of building gaudy, flaming phalluses with friends.
Minecraft is regularly compared to Lego for its creative aspects, but that’s only half the story. My absolute favourite thing about the game is how it taps into the more primitive parts of my brain. Hunt. Gather. Survive. During an online session, I got nervous of an impending monster attack once it started to rain, and when my friend asked me if precipitation brought more monsters, I realized that my caveman brain had correlated a spate of encounters with one heavy shower, but I had no evidence of causation. For a game that has apparently been ‘streamlined’, that’s a rather profound impact to have on my mostly scientifically-literate mind.
If you have a passing interest in expressing your creativity, testing your survival instincts or goofing around with your friends in a low-pressure online social setting, Minecraft is an essential addition to your Xbox 360 collection.
Title: Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition