Review: Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition

I first delved into the world of Minecraft in December of 2010. I joined the community a mere week after the alpha period ended and the game went into beta. I had heard a great many good things about the game from friends, but I never actually decided to give the game a try until then. As it turned out, everything I had heard was true. I spent a great many hours on the PC version of Minecraft killing monsters, running for my life, and building large-scale structures.

Hundreds of hours, several servers, and many structures later, I still find the game infinitely fun. This is a rather overused analogy, but Minecraft is like playing with Legos, except that you have to go find and collect the particular Legos you need, and the right Legos can be combined to make even better ones. Oh, and you have an infinite number of Legos to work with. That last part is what makes the game appealing. There’s an infinite horizon to explore, and the game will remain interesting as long as you can use your imagination to think up more creations. It is the epitome of the Sandbox-building game genre, and although others like Infiniminer came first, this one seems to have done everything just right to garner widespread appeal.

When I heard that Minecraft was going to be ported to the 360, I was highly skeptical at first. I’ve had bad experiences with ports in the past, and given the way Minecraft is intended to be played, I doubted that the game could be anything less than awkward to play on a console. For the most part, the 360 port has rendered my fears moot. The gameplay is nearly identical to the PC version and is even better in some respects. However, it does have a few key things that are not quite up to par.

Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition
Systems: PC, Xbox Live Arcade (reviewed)
Developer: Mojang, 4J Studios
Publisher: Mojang, Microsoft
Release Date: May 9, 2012
MSRP: $19.99 (1600 Microsoft Points)

The first thing I noticed when starting the game was the difference in interface compared to the PC version. In the 360 version, the title screen includes options for checking leaderboards, achievements, help and options, and downloadable content, in addition to the option to begin playing the game. Currently, there is no DLC for the game, but the option is there for future purposes. Interestingly, when I first started the game, I checked out the leaderboards. There, I was able to check who had mined the most blocks or farmed the most plants in all of Xbox LIVE. However, as of this writing, I can no longer do this. I’m stuck viewing only those on my friends list because if I try to change the filter, the next setting is My Score, and this setting completely freezes my Xbox for some unknown reason. This has been happening to me for about a week and is the only glitch I’ve found in the game, aside from those present in the PC version. Research has told me there are others like this, however.

When the Play Game option is selected, the game asks you to select a storage device. The game is able to save to either the Cloud or your hard drive, making it easier to access your world when you’re away from your own Xbox. Given the size of the worlds on the PC version, this surprised me. However, I quickly discovered that the ability to do this stems from the 360 version limiting the world to no more than 1024×1024 blocks, about the same size as an in-game map. This limits not only the size of the world, but also the size of the save file. This number may make you think that the worlds in Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition are small, and they are. The world is small enough that I can explore until I reach the end of the world. However, I have not yet encountered the end of the world while digging and it hasn’t imposed on my creative works. It may bother those that like endlessly exploring the world, but it’s not too troublesome to live with. At this point, I don’t know whether or not the world size will be expanded in future updates.

Behold! My home upon the mountain high!

When creating a new world or playing in an existing one, the game gives you several options: you can select the difficulty, whether or not it’s an online game, and whether or not the game will be invite-only. These options make it easy to adjust the difficulty or make your world visible or invisible to those that may wish to play with you. The game supports up to eight players via online multiplayer split-screen. Locally, the game supports up to four players via split-screen.

For the most part, the split-screen multiplayer functionality works pretty well: a player can join at any time by pressing the start button on a controller and selecting one of the local profiles on the 360, and options can be changed to choose between either horizontal or vertical split-screen.

However, there are a few issues with multiplayer that I found particularly annoying. First, I must note that I play my console games on a 42″ plasma TV that I sit approximately ten feet away from. When I’m playing a singleplayer game this is fine, and for most multiplayer games, it causes no problems, either. Unfortunately, Minecraft‘s menus have a lot of text. It can be hard to tell sand from sandstone given the similar colors and shapes of the icons, so reading the tooltip text is necessary. Unfortunately, when I was playing with my girlfriend, I found it impossible to read the menu items at the normal distance I sat. The smaller partition of the screen I was given also reduced the menu sizes by the same ratio. For the items on the HUD, this caused no problems, but for navigating inventory or chests, this was painful. I had to halve my distance from the TV to read them. I can only imagine this problem becoming even worse in a four-player split-screen multiplayer game.

Try standing about 10 feet away and reading that. I sure as hell can't.

Another slightly less annoying problem was the inability to play with local and online friends at the same time if the local friend didn’t own an Xbox LIVE account. Apparently, if the game is set in online mode, only Xbox LIVE players can join. While on the one hand, I can see this as understandable, on the other I don’t feel it’s fair to force everyone in the house to open a LIVE account if we want to play together with an online friend. On the bright side, 4J has managed to make the process of playing with other people online relatively easy. You can see if other friends are playing games when they’re on the world select menu, and you can also invite people to your game through the Xbox LIVE menus if you so desire.

Despite the issues with the game, it’s a very good port. The controls map to the controller very well; the left analog stick is for movement, while the right is for looking around. Y is inventory, X is crafting, B is drop, and A is jump. The shoulder buttons are used for rotating through your quick item bar, while the left and right triggers are use and mine/hit, respectively. You can sneak by pressing the right analog stick and change your perspective between first-, second-, and third-person by pressing the left analog stick. The controls are all very intuitive and easy to get accustomed to. One of the best parts about the controls is how well the inventory navigation is. I discovered during my second day playing the game (since I don’t like to read instruction manuals) that the directional pad can be used for refined cellular movement through your inventory, while the left analog stick acts more like a mouse cursor. The Y button’s quick move function helps a lot, making it far easier to move things between your inventory and other places.

The new crafting system tell you what you need to make something. It's similar to Terraria.

Although I skipped all the tutorials when I first started the game and discovered how to do everything manually, I went back and played through the tutorial mode included with game. The tutorial mode truly does a fine job of walking the player through the process of learning how to play Minecraft. Although I feel the controls are intuitive, I’m also an experienced Minecraft player. I’m certain I would’ve appreciated this tutorial mode far more when I first started playing the game back in the very start of beta.

Some people have said one of the best parts about Minecraft is not having an instruction manual or walkthrough and discovering how to do things on your own. For the most part, I agree with this; however, I find the inclusion of the tutorial helpful for those who don’t share in this sentiment.

The tutorial isn’t mandatory, and the small explanatory bits in the game when you first play it are also skippable. The only feature of the game I feel truly tramples on this ideal is the crafting system. The 360 version includes a very helpful and efficient crafting system, which allows you to scroll easily to whatever you want to make and craft it, provided that you have the materials. It’s fantastic. But that’s the problem: in the PC version, you have to look up or discover recipes by yourself; while the 360 version essentially hands them to you on a silver platter and says, “Go to town!” This would bother me far less if you had to discover a recipe first before having it appear in the super awesome crafting menu, but this isn’t the case. I feel like they tried to make the game more casual than it’s supposed to be.

Like a boss.

Despite the issue I take with the new crafting system, it does speed things up quite a bit. At the end of the day, the game is just as fun as the PC version is. It’s important to note, however, that the 360 version is missing a lot of features that the PC version has. The 360 version is based off the 1.6.6 PC beta version, so it’s missing many blocks, biomes, and features that were included in the later versions of the game. One notable feature that I missed was sprinting. Sprinting wasn’t included until the adventure update, which was version 1.8 of the beta. The lack of this feature made it much slower to get around and also made it take much longer to reach the ends of the relatively small world. 4J Studios has already promised that they’ll update the game as fast as possible in an effort to catch up with the PC version. The end goal is to make the 360 and PC versions compatible so that players can play with each other regardless of the system they’re using to play the game. I don’t know how long it will take for this to happen, but the game is fun regardless of how up-to-date it is. The down side of this being unavailable at the moment means that all worlds you can connect to have to be based locally; if the host of the world is offline, you can’t join it.

Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition is a great game that comes very close to the original. It’s definitely worth a look if you don’t own a gaming PC or any other computer, and it might be worth the buy even if you already have the PC version. The modified crafting system is definitely worth a look either way, so give the trial version of the game a spin at the very least.

PROS
* Good tutorial
* Intuitive controls
* Good music
* Creative
* Fun gameplay
* Easy crafting system
* Gameplay is nearly identical to PC version

CONS
* New crafting process removes some of the fun of discovering recipes
* There are some console crashing bugs (although few)
* Based on an older version of the game
* Currently no way to connect to dedicated servers

FINAL SCORE: B

Disclaimer: This game was given to Gaming Bus as compensation for being part of Raptr’s program. At the time of writing, the reviewer had played about 20 hours and gotten 15/20 achievements.

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Joshua Moore

About Joshua Moore

Joshua has been a gamer for a long time, starting back with the NES as a child. Since then his interests branched from game systems to general electronics; an avid fan of technology and computers, Joshua graduated with honors from the University of South Florida and now holds a degree in Electrical Engineering. His favorite games include Valkyrie Profile, BlazBlue, Left 4 Dead 2, and Ocarina of Time. Additionally, he attends various BlazBlue tournaments and tries to pick up other anime or air-dasher fighters whenever possible.