Having launched its first public build two years ago, some might wonder just what has taken Minecraft so long to make its way to consoles. Of course, it’s not just a simple case of adapting the control scheme to a pad as opposed to a mouse and keyboard arrangement, with a videogame such as this there are a number of logistical hurdles to overcome first. That Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition has arrived via a digital-only release with many of the adjustments typically considered staple for the console audience, is surely worthy of praise in its own right. But then, it’s how the videogame plays that counts, and Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition is no slouch in that regard.
Opting to begin with the tutorial informs you that Minecraft is a videogame about building with blocks, and that monsters come out at night. The first task you are assigned is to build a shelter in order to protect yourself from the monsters, and this is as simple as Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition gets. Once this initial step has been taken, the rest is up to your own imagination.
Now, at this point (or indeed at the very beginning should you chose not to entertain the tutorial) Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition can seem a little vague. Aside from those established by the Xbox 360 Achievements, there are no goals. There are no objectives, no reason nor rhyme to the world in which you inhabit. Instead it’s curiosity that leads the videogame experience, both away and at home. Most players will begin to establish a base of operations, returning to a sanctuary for the opportunity to experiment with new items, expand their construction repertoire or simply to take a break, however it is of course possible to create, or even liberate, a new home anywhere you see fit. In fact, it’s possible to do anything at near-any point, and the compulsion to explore the map to find what riches lay beyond your early borders is surely the simplest, yet most sophisticated reason for doing anything in a videogame?
The crafting mechanic is of course one of the most discussed aspects of the Minecraft world, and here in Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition only minor adjustments to the formula appear to have been made. The interface is simplified significantly, allowinf for both the transition to control pad and a more action-orientated audience, or at least a perceived one. The player no longer needs arrange raw materials into a specific order to create a new item, but rather simply have them available in their inventory: Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition does all the heavy lifting for the player, allowing them to get back into the fray with far less time spent on the minutiae.
The items that can be crafted remain the same however, with a huge list of curiosities waiting to be developed and experimented with. As would be expected, the player is encouraged to begin with basic building materials and tools, but it’s not long before combining this elements and rarer items leads to more complicated products. And of course, there’s still the impetus on the player to simply construct the most imaginative representation of real world instances, characters, places and objects in that unique Minecraft style.
Other renovations of the Minecraft formula come in the form of split-screen multiplayer – truly a blessing worth investing in for any serious Minecraft player with some not-so-serious friends or relatives – and a change to the prescribed gameplay modes. The lauded freedom of the Create mode from the PC original is gone, but in its place are adaptive difficulty settings for those who wish for Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition to be more about the adventure than the crafting. The map size has also been given a greater limit, though in reality it still remains far-and-above that which the average player would ever conceivably outgrow. Each map is generated afresh upon beginning a new save data each time, as opposed to procedurally generating as the player explores; it’s only a minor adjustment, but one that really plays well given the drop-in/drop-out nature of the split-screen gameplay.
There are a number of features that were promised for Minecraft’s Xbox 360 debut that haven’t made the launch day cut. Support for the full body motion-control device, Kinect, has famously been delayed until after launch, and the plan to allow mods and custom skin creation has also been put on hold. This aside, Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition still presents a compelling console adaptation of a critically acclaimed videogame. In it’s crafting there is enough impetus to suggest that this is an Xbox LIVE Arcade title that won’t be going away any time soon, but it’s actually Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition’s lack of predetermined direction that is it’s most liberating experience, comparable only to that of Nintendo’s groundbreaking Animal Crossing. Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition is a more than welcome console outing for an innovative videogame enterprise, and in its size alone is one which will surely be seen as another step towards a digital console future.