Minecraft Review

By Stephen A. Johnson - Posted May 22, 2012

The 360 version of Minecraft provides endless adventure in the world's most interesting gaming-sandbox; however, it suffers by comparison to its big brother on the PC.

The Pros
  • Revolutionary Open-World Gameplay
  • Tutorials Add Ease-Of-Play
  • Split-Screen "Couch Co-op" Is Awesome
The Cons
  • (Relatively) Small Map
  • Later PC-Minecraft Additions Not Included
  • No Creative Mode

Minecraft Xbox 360 Edition:

I’m a jealous of gamers who are getting their first hit of the gaming-crack that is Minecraft. Those who download this diamond will be rewarded with a totally unique and wonderful gaming experience. 4J, the developer of the 360 version of Minecraft, have done an amazing job translating Mojang’s PC and Mac game over to the 360, but it’s not an exact translation. New gameplay elements and trappings have been added for consoles, but a lot has been taken away as well. Minecraft remains a once-in-a-lifetime game, but the 360 version suffers more for what’s missing than it gains from its additions.

The basics of Minecraft are represented well on the 360. The low-tech-looking sandbox gameplay is in place, as is the self-directed search for survival and material goods. You punch trees, collect ingredients from a blocky, 3D world, craft increasingly complex tools, delve deep into endless, dangerous caverns, and create a space that’s safe from the inexplicably terrifying 8-Bit skeletons, spiders, zombies and creepers that spawn at night. Once you’ve got basic survival locked (a huge accomplishment), you can move on to creating a beautiful home, a 1-to-1 scale re-creation of The Defiant from Deep Space Nine or anything else you can imagine… Or you could just walk around in the woods and shoot arrows at skeletons. In other words: If you’re the right kind of person, this barely guided, creative experience will become more like a way-of-life than a video game, for a time, anyway. Eventually, most 360 gamers will run across the boundaries of Minecraft, both physically and conceptually, long before PC players will.

Let’s start with the positives: The 360 version of Minecraft adds two much-needed and appreciated elements designed to make Minecraft more user-friendly: Tutorials and a map.

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Building Blocks Of Minecraft Learning

The original Minecraft lacks any in-game documentation, leaving you at the mercy of your own ability (and online wikis) to figure out how a relatively complicated game works. The 360 version of Minecraft, gives you a tutorial level that walks you through the basics of how to get wood (heh, heh), mine rocks and build basic shelter to keep from being eaten alive when night falls and the monsters come out. It also includes a little village and an impressive castle to give you something to aspire to in your Minecraft-ing.

The learnin’ continues into the game-proper, with context sensitive menus to identify any new items you find. Crafting has been streamlined, and trial-and-error has been eliminated. No great loss, as almost every PC Minecraft player uses a wiki anyway. All of this will be very helpful to beginners, but it’s not so exhaustive that it takes away from the discovery elements of Minecraft or feels like school.

Minecraft 360

Along with the docs and hints, the 360 version of Minecraft gives players a map at the start of each game, for free. Getting something for nothing in Minecraft is almost sacrilege, but it’s much appreciated here. Maps are craftable in the PC version, but not until you’ve found some redstone deep in the earth and crafted iron to built a compass, which means you have to figure out how mining and smelting works before you’ve ever figured out where you are.

Sitting next to loved ones (or tolerated ones, anyway) and playing a game is an often overlooked source of fun in the age of online multiplayer, and in an open-world game like Minecraft, it’s like bringing your friend to a massive playground, except with more zombies.

Even with a four-player split screen going and other players in your server, navigating through Minecraft’s complicated menus is quickly mastered, if your television is big and HD enough. The menu system is about as serviceable as you could realistically expect from a 360, which is not to say it’s good or anything. Consoles just aren’t suited to complicated menus–a mouse and keyboard is the much preferable input solution.

Minecraft 360

“I Played Minecraft Before It Was Cool.”

So that’s all the good, but here comes the bad: Overall, console-Minecraft is based on an early version of the game. The PC version of Minecraft has evolved through updates to contain a whole lot more stuff than the 360 version, as well as noticeably improved lighting and graphics. A partial list of content that’s missing: Modding. The hunger mechanic that drives the PC version. The ability to raise animals from babies. Jungle cats. The jungle biomeme. Ruins in mines. NPC characters and villages. The enchanting system. The alchemy system. The End World, Ender Men, and the Ender Dragon final boss. And more. While some of these “later” additions aren’t all that great, and none are necessary for having a good time, on the whole, the PC Minecraft experience provides greater diversity and much deeper gaming, especially for more seasoned players. While 4J has said it’s interested in frequently updating Minecraft-360, those updates are not available at the time of this review. Let’s hope they’ll come soon.

Minecraft 360

It’s A Small World After All

The list of Minecraft features missing from the 360 is long, but the most egregious omission is the sheer scope of the PC version of Minecraft. While computer Minecraft’s procedurally generated geography is limited only by the amount of memory your PC has, the 360 version takes place on a 1024 by 1024 block level. That’s pretty big in terms of many games, but tiny in terms of Minecraft. It’s dispiriting to get to the edge of the map with so little effort, especially when the boundary has been so shoddily defined. A wall of lava or an un-climbable peak would have been preferable to Minecraft’s lazy invisible barrier. The absence of endless open spaces means that you can essentially never get really lost, and it also limits the amount of sheer raw materials in the world, potentially scuttling hugely ambitious building plans.

Minecraft 360

Speaking of resources, the PC version of Minecraft contains a creative mode where you have access to everything the game has to offer. It’s perfect if you prefer building with an infinite Lego set and don’t feel like being ravaged by skeletons. The 360 game offers only the survival mode. Big points off for that. And big points off for not allowing gamers to change difficulty in the middle of games, too.

On the whole, any Minecraft is better than no Minecraft, and the 360 version is a full, satisfying game, when not judged against the PC version -- even in slightly-gimped form, Minecraft is better than most games on earth.