When I was young, I used to play with Lego’s all the time. Like, obsessively so. I can't tell you how much time I spent coming up with new uses for those colorful bricks. Over the years I crafted some impressive things, but my favorite was a Resident Evil-inspired town that was being invaded by the zombie hordes.
Fast forward roughly a decade later, years after I last touched a Lego, and there is now a game that lets me do all these things. Minecraft is a game whose potential is limited only by your imagination. You can build whatever you like, and the game-y aspects, like the enemies that spawn each night, can be turned off completely. It's about exploration and creation, and as someone who never touched the PC version, it's about time the game has finally come to the Xbox 360.
Unfortunately, whereas the original has a massive world of an almost infinite scale and is supported by constant mods and new content, the 360 version has some serious limitations. For starters, the world is only 1024x1024 blocks. It's still a huge world, but I found myself hitting the invisible walls that surround it on more than one occasion. Vertically, it's a little too shallow. There's an indie title on Xbox Live Arcade called Total Miner that was heavily inspired by Minecraft. It's not as wide, but it goes twice as deep. As you dig every 100 or so blocks the material changes and the ground gets more difficult to mine. This is something I would've liked to see in Minecraft, especially since you can hit its bedrock bottom fairly quickly.
The world might not be as big as I would've hoped, but there's certainly more to it than any of the games it went on to inspire. From the enemies you encounter to the animals you can harvest and even befriend, the world feels more alive. You can milk cows or kill them for their leather, get eggs and feathers from chickens, wool from sheep, and you can even give bones to wolves to get them to fight alongside you. The only thing the game is lacking is the option to fence in animals to create a farm. You can fence them in now, but as soon as you leave they disappear, forcing you to scour the world to find them.
The Xbox 360 version does have an exciting new feature the others don't share, and that's four-player split-screen. This lets you play with a friend in the same room or online with up to eight players, so long as you're playing on an HDTV. The crafting system was heavily modified to make it work better with the controller. You can no longer place items in the grid a certain way to craft the items you need--instead, you just have to choose what you want from a list of recipes.
One of the biggest drawbacks of this edition is that it lacks many of the features and items found in the PC version. The more noticeable omissions are the enchanting and experience systems, and the ability to sprint--none of which made it into the Xbox 360 edition.
You won't be able to change or customize your avatar's skin; one is just randomly chosen for you when you enter a game. If you're new to Minecraft, there's a very handy tutorial mode that teaches you everything from mining blocks to more advanced concepts like working monorails.
Minecraft is interesting because it straddles the line between survival horror and an almost Zen-like experience. During the day you can gather resources, build, or explore, but it isn't until the sun dips below the horizon when a darker side to that vibrant, pixilated world reveals itself. Every night the Creepers, skeleton archers, and zombies come out to play, making the world far more dangerous to explore alone. If you really want a challenge you can open a Nether Portal and use it to enter the Nether, where you'll fight bomb-hurling Ghasts and zombie pigs.
The attention to detail in this game is remarkable. The music is beautiful and you can even craft a jukebox to play different tunes. You can take wool from sheep, dye it, and use it to decorate your home. You can build simple things like windows, torches, and beds, or you can go more complex with mine carts, automatic doors, floor traps, and so much more. You can create farms to harvest wheat, mushrooms, and sugar cane, too. My first base was a modest cave hollowed out of a mountain with a waterfall I used as one of my walls. My second was more ambitious; a mansion of wood and glass that sat atop the tallest mountain I could find, and had monorails leading from my home to the base of the mountain. The possibilities are virtually endless.
Overall, the Xbox 360 version of Minecraft is an excellent port. It lacks many of the features its PC sibling has, but those are expected to be implemented in the game's free updates. If you're looking for a fun, highly addictive way to relax and let your creativity run free, or if you want an entertaining game to play with some friends, this won't disappoint.
This review is based on a digital copy of Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition for Xbox Live Arcade provided by Microsoft Game Studios.