Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition review for XBLA

Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Mojang
Medium: Digital Download
Players: 1-8
Online: Yes
ESRB: E10+

So unless you?ve been living under a rock for a while, there?s a good chance you already know what Minecraft is all about. It?s been a PC darling for quite a while now, and for good reason. It?s the equivalent of virtual world LEGO?s, allowing its players to create and change the world around them however they see fit. If you can imagine it, there?s a pretty good chance you can build it, assuming it fits into the game?s medieval fantasy trappings.

This port of the game to Microsoft?s Xbox Live Arcade platform seems pretty damn good in comparison to the PC version of the game. The only real downfall is that the XBLA version is a few steps behind the PC game, with this port using version 1.6.6 which is roughly a year old at this point. So there are some features present in the PC game that?ll be missing here, but there?s promise for content patches already on the table, so eventually XBLA players should be able to catch up.

In the meantime though, there?s still plenty to do. Minecraft?s overall concept is simple enough, you control a little block shaped human through a first person perspective, and use the left and right trigger buttons on the 360 controller to both destroy and rebuild blocks that make up the environment around you. The world you start off in is randomly generated, so no two places will ever be alike. That world is also open for exploration, if you can see it then you can definitely get to it regardless of how out of reach a location might seem.

Every structure in the world, from the animals roaming around to the rocks, dirt and trees around you, are composed of cubes. When you begin the game you?ll have nothing but your two hands to assist you and you?ll quickly need to start breaking down materials to repurpose them for building some type of shelter. Minecraft also has a day and night cycle, and when night rolls around it?s in your best interest to be securely indoors, and in a well lit place.

At night zombies, spiders, and creepers will spawn and roam around, and will come crawling for you if you?re spotted out in the open. At the onset of the game you?re pretty weak, and won?t stand a chance going toe to toe against any enemy. But as the game progresses, you can make armor and weapons that?ll allow you some freedom to move about even at night, and will become necessary to have when exploring various caverns and underground areas.

And Minecraft is really all about exploration, as much as it is about building. I spent a lot of my early hours building up on my initial dwelling place, constructing a fortress of sorts that spiraled high into the sky, so that I could see it from far off when I decided to go out traveling. At night I created an underground space to mine away at, which allowed me to find some harder to get materials like diamonds, and Redstone ore. Eventually I dug deep enough to break through to a pocket of lava, which poured out into my underground structure, and gave me the ability to start producing the rare Obsidian ore as well.

Minecraft is basically the ultimate sandbox game, limited only by its setting and your imagination. Its complete lack of story, outside of the one you make up in your head, only helps to reinforce that sandbox concept. You?ll never play the same game of Minecraft twice, thanks to its randomly generated worlds and the fact that there?s always something new to see and check out.

This port of Minecraft is pretty much spot on too, so if you?re transitioning over from the PC to check the game out on XBLA, you?ll find that everything is pretty much intact. There?s a slight change to the crafting system, which takes out the guess work of building items by introducing schematics up front when accessing the crafting menu, but I honestly prefer that to dragging individual items across one menu to the next to put something together. Considering menu management isn?t ideal on the 360 with a controller interface, streamlining the way crafting works definitely makes sense.

One other feature worth talking about is the way multiplayer is handled here. You can play local split-screen with up to four players, which is pretty awesome, or take your world online and play with friends, supporting 8 players total. I didn?t have much of a chance to test out the online portion of the game, but did get a few players in my world without much trouble. Minecraft?s experience, like most games, is definitely more enjoyable with a friend or two in tow, and if you have the option of playing with other people definitely try it out.

All in all, this feels like an excellent port of one of the best PC titles in recent years. If you?ve missed out on the PC version of the game for whatever reason, do yourself a favor and check this out. And if you?re a PC Minecraft veteran, but want to school your console friends on your Minecraft knowledge, then you?ll be happy to know that game makes the transition to consoles without a hitch. It?s a great port of a great game, and well worth picking up.

Grade: A