Why are we only just getting around to properly reviewing Minecraft on the 360? Since its release in 2011, Minecraft has become a genuine worldwide phenomenon, sparking nothing short of a revolution in game design and we’re only just playing it now… well, because Microsoft has released a boxed version meaning anyone with an Xbox 360 can join in the fun and find out what all the fuss is about.
Yes, we’re late to the party, but it’s a party that’s only just wheeled out the karaoke machine and is cranking up Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing at full volume…
To really dissect and understand why Minecraft has become the enormous hit it has become you almost have to ask yourself why we play games in the first place. Minecraft falls perfectly into the sandbox category of games that allow players complete freedom.
It’s a virtual sandbox in the true sense. You’re not just free to cause as much chaos as you want, no, Minecraft creates a world in which the focus is creation and the reward is a world shaped to your vision. A unique world is created each time you begin and, though it does ask you to survive the night, other than that you’re left to your own devices.
The true genius of this only become apparent once you’ve spent some time exploring and chipping away at Minecraft’s cube-based world. The similarities with Lego are easy to see and like Lego, much of the joy comes from seeing what you can create. Unlike Lego, though, you’re not limited by the pieces you do and don’t have or by any arbitrary technical restrictions.
Minecraft’s enormous sandbox is entirely malleable, or as malleable as you’d want, though the 360 version isn’t quite as expansive as the one found on PC that can see players spend a few months of their lives creating Middle-Earth or the continent of Westeros.
Alone, this pure creation tool would be compelling enough, but Minecraft introduces what is essentially a loose RPG structure. Your character might not level up, but your own understanding of how the world works certainly does. The environment is teeming with resources that need to be harvested and manipulated to create bigger and better items. Whether you’re burning wood to create charcoal for torches to help light your castle at night, or mining materials to create stronger armour, there might not be a skill tree, but the sense of progression is present all the same.
And Minecraft eases you into this mentality, shows you the ropes and then leaves you to get on with it. There’s no hand-holding (well, very little at least) and to grasp the complexity of the higher tier items you have to go onto forums, communicate with the community and get involved with the millions of people that log on to Mojang’s servers everyday. Community is a big part of the experience, evident with its lively inclusive forums and the popular Minecon event which was created to cater for the voracious need for Minecraft players to come together, swap stories and become part of a bigger community.
And this is all because, played with friends, Minecraft’s free-form creation and world-shaping gameplay sparks the imagination. It regresses players to have the mentality of a child at play, indulging in pure creation and shaping the world in any way you can imagine and making the impossible possible. Minecraft taps directly into that frame of mind and if you add other people into the mix, not even the sky’s the limit. Literally, you can build a tower to the sky if that’s what takes your fancy.
Though there’s a delicate balance at play, between the total freedom that allows players to jump in and the increasing complexity that its resources and management creates, it’s never overbearing. Learning how to shape the world around you comes as a natural part of exploring it.
The Xbox 360 edition of Minecraft might not have the sprawling super servers of its PC cousin, but it does allow players to come together over Live and most importantly, it allows for up to four players on one screen. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this one simple edition and though players used to the PC version and its keyboard and mouse set-up might lament giving over control to the 360’s pad, the transition to console is smoother than anyone could have predicted.
On the Xbox 360 Minecraft brings the revolution straight to your door. It could have so easily been the preserve of the PC crowd, but on a console the experience remains as addictive, pleasing and downright enjoyable as it ever was before. Minecraft is a breath of fresh air, a perfect combination of game design, player freedom and pure, unadulterated creation. If you’re looking to the Xbox One and the next-gen to fuel innovation within gaming, Minecraft shows that all you really need is a toolbox and a spark of imagination.