Minecraft Xbox 360 Review
The announcement of Minecraft for Xbox 360 has been kicked around for nearly a year, and finally this week this console port is out. The journey of this game from half-working alpha that people could buy into and play, all the way to a full game with its developers making millions, has been a strange one - primarily because the original creator, Mojang's Markus Persson, saw the success of his game grow exponentially without a dollar spent on marketing. And with a third-party developer called 4J Studios at the helm, Minecraft on 360 brings some nice enhancements for multiplayer and a re-done interface to work with the console crowd. The game is just as brilliant as the original, but it's also got some limitations and issues.
The first thing anyone who sees Minecraft for the first time asks is, "Why is this game so ugly?" And the answer is that it's because the game supports massive landscapes that can often have beautiful overall designs, but yes, any one cubic-meter-block of pixellated dirt, stone, or sand is most certainly ugly, yes. The second question is usually, "So what is the point of this game?" And while the current PC version of Minecraft has an end-game objective to enter a place called The End and kill an Ender Dragon, unfortunately, this Xbox 360 port is derived from a build of the PC version that was released nearly a year ago, before a bunch of interesting features in the current builds were added. So for now, this game's only point is the fun you can have building stuff, collecting materials, and killing monsters with your friends. There's no end to it except in the goals that you make for yourself.
On PC, Minecraft multiplayer has always had its fair share of issues, and while server software is freely distributed, actually administrating and maintaining a server - even if it's just for those who live in your house - is kind of a hassle. On 360, 4J Studios has revamped the multiplayer to work in much the same way other console multiplayer games work. Not only does split-screen play work with two or four players, but eight players can all be in a multiplayer game at once with any number of split-screen players making up the maximum of eight. Unfortunately, things fall apart if the hosting player's 360 crashes, and while I haven't had that myself yet, I've seen it more than once on Twitch.tv streams of the game. You see, in Minecraft on 360, you have to do manual saving of your world (which takes kind of a while), and if the hosting player's game has an issue, then everything done is reverted back to the previous save. This could mean the loss of hours' worth of adventuring and building, and it just doesn't seem like the architecture that 4J built for this save system can really be easily revamped.
But when it's good, it's really good. Much as was the case with PC, there simply isn't a game like Minecraft on Xbox 360, where you can break and remake a large, randomly-generated, 3D world as you see fit - and do it all together with friends. It's a good place for people to goof around and chat on their headsets, as there are many quiet moments in the game. Of course, more exciting things happen, too, but admittedly, that's mostly when people die - usually involving a Creeper explosion, a fall into lava, or suffocation under a small mountain of falling gravel. Players can build large redstone-powered contraptions and such, although it's important to point out that the size of a Minecraft world on PC is theoretically unlimited, but that's not available on 360. Instead, players must roam a world that's 1024x1024 blocks, which is about one square kilometer, and the doubled world height that is now in the PC version of the game is not available here. Word is that free updates are on the way, but we've got no idea right now whether the developers are making any headway on catching up the 360 version of the game to the current PC edition.
Finally, there's the matter of price. Minecraft on 360 is a full twenty bucks (1600 MS points), and while that's less than what it costs on PC now ($26), it should be pointed out that the version of the game 360 players are getting was what Beta players got on PC, and back then it cost, well, about twenty bucks there as well. Still, I've played games that cost just as much and have lasted me a tiny fraction of the time that Minecraft has - well, on PC that is, but there's no reason why this port can't be enjoyed in the same way.
Those who see past the blocky graphics to bring out the fun of Minecraft, especially with their friends, will find that this game is well worth the money. I've seen people's recent forum posts about building their first house and initially learning things like farming, how to explore and secure a massive cave system, or how to design a redstone-run door system, and it brings me back to when I discovered all of those things - and I'm happy that a whole new army of gamers are getting to experience all of that on 360. Whether you're building an impressive mansion, hunting down diamonds in dark caverns, or venturing into the evil Nether realm, all of it works great here on 360 and nothing was compromised - well, other than possibly the integrity of your world when the game crashes, or the crustiness of the year-old build that 4J Studios brought to the 360. Let's hope that some updates start coming out to get the game to be a little more stable, and just a little more caught up to the current day.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a digital 360 copy that we bought.