Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition Review
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On 06/02/2012 at 02:33 PM by Travis Hawks
Not so sure I’m down with Minecraft, ya dig?
Give it a try – if you like to create.
Having had no experience with Minecraft on the PC, Minecraft: 360 Edition seemed like the perfect place for me to dig in and see what all the hubbub was about. After spending hours with the game, I find myself struggling with how to feel about the experience. At times, the genius of its world, its intricate interacting components, and the potential to do whatever you can dream of kept dragging me back to play some more. Other times, I was overwhelmed with the required monotonous labor necessary to put your ideas into practice and felt like I was playing a glorified version of Farmville where I had signed myself up for a series of simulated chores that I would rather not be doing. And so, I have a divided opinion on the experience – which I think won’t be unusual among the masses discovering Minecraft for the first time.
Minecraft sets itself up for stark differences of opinion by not really being game at all, but more of a software play set that lets you create an infinite number of projects. The program’s beauty is in the complex inner workings of its systems. Mined stone can be used to make a furnace which can be used to glass from sand, bread with the wheat you harvest, charcoal to create torches for exploring, and any number of things. Almost every crafted item will lead to another even more complicated and desirable structure, foodstuff, mechanism, armor, weapon, or tool that can be made. It’s a never ending loop of discovery and creativity that is an impressive accomplishment. This crafting algorithm is where Minecraft shines, deserves every syllable of praise it’s received, and why you should probably check it out if you are a fan of game design.
But what to do within this system of interconnected elements in a randomly generated world that you can call your own? That’s where the problems can begin. Anyone who doesn’t get inspired by level creation tools in games, or finds LEGO bricks to be a drag should keep far away from Minecraft. Its only purpose is to allow you to live in a world wherein you can devise and complete your own visions. Deciding to recreate Mount Rushmore, build a mine cart subway, or terraform a barren desert into a thriving jungle are all things that Minecraft allows you to do. Some might find themselves wandering around on the series of small islands that the program created, wondering what it is they are supposed to be doing except survive the night’s onslaught of zombies and skeleton archers. Players like this will have no need to come back because without some drive to create within the world, there is no quest, no story, and no reason to play.
For the creative, dreaming up projects and working them through to completion can be satisfying and fun. It’s during the larger tasks that one might start to feel things drag a bit. In order to gather sufficient supplies to do tasks beyond the basic hovel building, you will have to spend a lot of time mining. Whether you start digging into the side of a mountain or down into the beach, the underground will all soon look identical. The caverns you dig and the pre-rendered ones you occasionally uncover are all stone, gravel, dirt and sand blocks in a nigh identical layout (although technically unique). If all you are after is stone and dirt, there is plenty to be had and just a small investment of time will allow you to gather massive quantities. It’s the rarer items that require a stupefying amount of digging that made me start to dislike Minecraft.
At first, finding enough iron ore took a bit of time until I dug deep enough. Once I had crafted iron tools, the process of mining got faster – yet still repetitive and dull. But then finding the rarer items like gold in order to create powered mine cart rails becomes a battle against random chance and the only way to win is to keep searching. With the world being randomized, gold ore doesn’t just come in a huge vein near the surface where you can gather all you need. You’ll have to spend time digging long and deep, start new mines in different areas, and in general wait until the fortunes of Minecraft shine upon you and grant the minerals you seek.
Let’s be fair, though. If the rare items were just laying along the beach where you were first spawned, you would quickly make the coolest items in the game, get bored and leave. So there has to be some feeling of accomplishment, some drive to keep you coming back to the game outside of just completing your own tasks, but damn. It gets old.
If you’re still interested in this sort of thing despite my warnings of drudgery, then you’ll be pleased to know that there is little else to complain about. If you haven’t seen any screens of the game (where have you been?), the graphical style of the game is not impressive, but entirely necessary to allow for the construction system. Everything is a big block and it’s easy to tell the difference between gravel and dirt. It’s a quaint style that some might find off-putting and others charming. The same goes for the continuous loop of music that plays through the days and nights. A light elevatorial series of tunes, the score can be both relaxing and bothersome as you’ll hear the same tracks repeatedly as you delve back into your mines or add another row of bricks on your house time and again. And although the sameness of the mines you dig gets stale quickly, at times the above-ground areas can start to feel tiresome as well. Even though they can have some pretty cool features, the limited set of building blocks available starts to really feel limiting once you’ve traversed every inch of your world.
You can also try delving into Minecraft with its multiplayer capabilities, either with someone locally (but you’d better have an HDTV) or online. This allows for you to work with a friend to do cool massive projects together or to completely trash someone’s world until they boot you out of it. Having friends step into your realm can be a fun romp, where you might devise even more neat things to do like mine cart races or sword duels. It probably feels a bit limited compared to having an ongoing Minecraft world on a PC server where people can come and go, but it’s a good compromise for the console.
Most detractors of the 360 Edition of Minecraft don’t like the fact that its minerals, crafting, and other features lag behind where the PC version stands at present, and that seems to be true. There is still plenty to be doing in this version of the game, so if you are like me and have never touched Minecraft on the PC, you won’t notice the missing features. There is probably also concern about playing with a controller, which is laid out as straightforward as possible. I never once struggled with the way a very complex system was mapped to the limited set of buttons. There’s also some concern among the PC faithful that the generated worlds are on the smaller side. It’s true that you can explore every block of your world in a few in-game days, but it certainly felt like there was plenty of room to roam around. Plus, a new world can be generated at any time should you run out of space and activities.
I have no regrets of the many many hours I’ve spent in my Minecraft archipelago, routing lava flows into monster spawners, building sky-high stone towers, and swimming from shore to shore to quickly throw together a mud hut in time for nightfall. But now that I feel like I’ve experienced enough of the game to “get it,” I’m happy to never go back. Although the monotonous work of grinding in an RPG, or repeating a tough level again and again in a tough shoot-‘em-up doesn’t irk me, something about the picking picking digging picking digging into stone tunnels in Minecraft just turned my brain to mush. If only it didn’t, though, I think I’d like to keep coming up with cool structures to build and continue to explore every bit of every island. Which is why Minecraft leaves me sticking it squarely among the average games out there, where some will love it, some will hate it, and others will trudge through just because. Minecraft is an amazing feat that deserves awards and praise, it just doesn’t deserve any more of my free time.