Five days ago, I had never played Minecraft. I didn’t understand the fascination, or obsession, with it, and I was content. Having spent the past five days in my personal realm of Doompocalypse, a land of opportunity, freedom, and dreams fulfilled, I begin to understand. Minecraft is the frontier. When Americans were blazing new trails into the west, they went with what they could carry or cart, and built everything else they needed. When settlers participated in the Land Run of 1889 into unincorporated Oklahoma, they traveled as light as possible to get to ground as quickly as possible. From nothing, they build civilization. That is Minecraft. From nothing but the clothes on your back and a map in your hands, you build…anything.
For those who have yet to play Minecraft, I highly recommend playing through the tutorial. There is a lot of complexity to this game, as simple as it may originally seem, and you will find the lessons learned in the tutorial extremely valuable in the early hours of exploration and adventuring. From basic crafting to more advanced elements, the tutorial does a very good job at not only defining the button functions but also clarifying some of the basic techniques essential to the game. It won’t tell you how to do everything, but it will teach you how to use the game, and let you figure out the rest as part of your adventure.
Minecraft is, at its core, very cyclical. From the obvious element of the day/night cycles that allow you to enjoy relative safety and freedom during the day while relegating you to locking the doors and barring the windows at night, to the larger concept of the “mine, craft, play, repeat” cycle, you see even more of a parallel to life on the frontier, and life in general. If nothing else, you could at the very least say that Mojang and 4J Studios have managed to create a wonderful western frontier-life simulation.
There are two major results of the cyclical and from scratch natures of Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition: a slow start and unparalleled creative freedom. While the game tutorial does a great job of guiding you through playing the game, you will inevitably find yourself off to a slow start. You are a long way from building stone castles, diamond swords, shining armor, and the world of your dreams. Almost invariably, you’re going to start out your first day/night cycle mining a lot of dirt and building a dirt house to protect you from the zombies, skeletons, spiders, creepers (oh, how I have grown to loathe creepers), and more. If you can get past these first cycles and really start hitting your stride, the game becomes an exercise in unparalleled creative freedom. You can build almost anything you can imagine. The world is, literally, your playground.
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When I saw that Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition was going to run 1600MSP, I scoffed. There were multiple alternatives in the indie market for 80-240 MSP that seemed to offer the same basic functionality of building with cubes. How could they justify charging 1600MSP for something already available at a fraction of the price; just for the “Minecraft” name? All of this came to me quickly as a person who had never played actual Minecraft before. Now, having done just that, I can understand why. The indie games, while they contain the basic building blocks (yeah, I said it) of the Minecraft formula, can’t hold a candle to the depth and complexity of the proper Minecraft formula. It is a strong end to Microsoft’s inaugural Arcade NEXT promotion, and difficult to compare to the rest of the entries. Is this game for you? It depends. Minecraft isn’t for everyone. With no discernible endgame or goal, more focused players may not find much enjoyment in the title. Players who enjoy the freedom to do what they will may have a hard time finding a title that allows you as much freedom as this one does.
Feel free to join me on idyllic Doompocalypse if you see it open.
[review pros="Massive world
Exploration and adventure
Incredibly creative freedom" cons="Expensive for XBLA
Very slow start" score=90]