Also available on: N/A
Developer: 4J Studios, Mojang
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Genre: Action adventure, strategy, simulation
Many games are referred to as a sandbox or open-world experience, but the designation has never fitted a game quite so perfectly as it does Minecraft. For the uninitiated, the game's core premise is to let players loose in randomly generated cubic worlds. These worlds are, quite literally at times, a sandbox where players can freely explore, build, dig and destroy the blocky landscape.
Every block has a purpose, and typically more than one at that. What starts with punching trees to recover blocks of wood turns into crafting that wood into planks and sticks. Those planks and sticks can then be moulded to produce a crafting table and tools, such as pickaxes and shovels, which in turn can harvest new blocks that can create even more tools.
Well, your imagination and the monsters who lurk at night, with zombies, skeletal archers, giant spiders and explosive creepers threatening you and your creations once the sun goes down.
The simple brilliance of it all is that there is very little that the game actually requires of its players. Minecraft will not provide goals; you will never be asked to build an elaborate booby-trapped fortress or venture into deep and mysterious caves in search of precious metals and treasure. Whatever you do or build in Minecraft is self-motivated, making each completed structure, discovered island or spelunking adventure all the more meaningful.
But if determining your own goals doesn't excite you, perhaps determining goals with friends is more to your liking. Minecraft was always best on PC when shared with friends, and multiplayer has been enhanced on Xbox 360 through the inclusion of split-screen play. Up to four players can share the same screen and world, either adventuring together or separating out to accomplish more tasks at once. The player count then doubles to eight when taken online, with gamers given the option to make their world accessible online each time they play.
Just as the core of Minecraft is only limited by what you make of it, the same philosophy applies to multiplayer. Friends can be adventuring and building together one moment, then spontaneously break out into a game of 'capture the flag' or any variety of competitive games with their own house rules.
A tutorial has been added for the Xbox 360 Edition, which walks players through the basics of harvesting and crafting materials. It also expands into the main game, where pop-up descriptions appear over blocks and creatures when they are encountered for the first time.
For beginners, the streamlined crafting system takes away one of the original game's largest hurdles. However, it also diminishes the game's sense of discovery. Where the crafting possibilities once seemed endless, the streamlined crafting menu clearly shows that there is an end.
It provides an artificial goal - to create all of the items, or at least the most powerful item of each type - which may fool some players into quitting once they think everything has been seen. Perhaps a more elegant solution would be for the crafting menu to only show what can be built with the materials you are holding, allowing some sense of mystery to remain.
That is to say nothing of the much-touted Kinect support, which is unavailable at launch. Meanwhile, creative mode, the popular PC feature that let players fly and build as they desired with unlimited resources, is also nowhere to be found, with the only game mode available being the standard game of survival with a handful of difficulty settings.
That is the dilemma of Minecraft Xbox 360 Edition. What is there is fun, but incomplete; with each purchase there is an investment of trust that Minecraft will grow and evolve on Xbox 360 as it continues to do on PC. Of course, those venturing into Minecraft's world for the first time would never know that pieces of the puzzle are still missing.
And assuming the updates do eventually arrive, those newcomers will have a treat as they witness the process of a game being built around them. But even without the latest updates and features, Minecraft Xbox 360 Edition remains a compelling experience.