Minecraft: Story Mode – Season One
Minecraft: Story Mode is the latest episodic adventure game — well, interactive story — from Telltale Games. It places you in the blocky world of Minecraft, where you control Jesse (who can be male or female) and his/her friends Axel, Olivia, and Petra, plus a pet pig named Reuben. Earlier we reviewed Episode 1 of the game. This review is for Episodes 1-5, which comprise the first season.
At the start of the game, Jesse and Co. are on their way to a building competition, and everything is going well for them there until a destructive wither storm is released. Your characters have no hope of defeating such a storm, so they seek out the fabled Order of the Stone — who unfortunately turn out to be much more powerful in their stories than they are in real life. And so it falls to Jesse to save the day. Oddly, this storyline only takes up the first four episodes of the season. The final episode is just a standalone adventure after your characters have become famous.
Minecraft: Story Mode is an easy game to control. You use the WASD keys to move Jesse around, and you left click on interactive objects (which are always labeled) to perform actions. Every so often Jesse gets attacked by zombies or endermen or other strange creatures, and during these sequences you use the WASD keys to dodge, and the Q and E keys to grapple and perform actions. This is the same set-up that Telltale has used in all of its games, and it works just as well here as has elsewhere. It’s just that at some point Telltale needs to think up something new for their games so people don’t use words like “standard,” “old hat” and “stale” to describe their mechanics.
For an adventure-style game to work, it needs one of two things: either an interesting story or good puzzles — or preferably both. Unfortunately, Telltale has started shying away from puzzles in their games, which puts a lot of pressure on their stories. This strategy has worked out well enough in their Walking Dead games, but it’s more of a struggle in the Minecraft universe.
Let me start with the puzzles. There are only a handful of puzzles in the game, roughly one per episode. This might work if the puzzles are challenging or inventive, but they’re not. They mostly rely on pulling levers in the right way. Worse, Telltale goes way beyond “handholding” to the point of “big blinking neon signs” when giving hints, making the easy puzzles even easier.
As an example, at one point you find five artifacts belonging to the Order of the Stone, and you have to place them on pedestals in the right way to open a door. This sort of puzzle can be okay, but it’s never going to be really challenging just because there are only 120 possible combinations to try. But for the specific puzzle in the game, if you look at one of the items, you get a response like (paraphrased), “The Order found this during their FIRST MISSION.” So, gee, I wonder which pedestal it goes on. Maybe the fourth?
The puzzles are so easy and there’s so much help for them that I’m not sure who Telltale’s target audience is. Were they aiming for grade schoolers who have never played adventures before? Or do they just have a really low opinion of the intelligence level of their players? Or was creating compelling puzzles too much work?
And then there’s the story. The problem here is that Story Mode is presented like a cartoon, and it’s written like a cartoon (where, among other things, people can fall from any distance and survive as long as they land in water), and so it’s tough to take it seriously — even when Telltale makes a desperate grab at your heartstrings by killing off the only character you’re likely to care about. With their Walking Dead games, Telltale at least has real(ish) people in real(ish) situations, so you can form attachments, but Story Mode has all the emotional depth of The Itchy & Scratchy Show.
Plus, Story Mode doesn’t actually have much of a story to it. Most of it is a simple travelogue as you visit strange places and stranger people, all while searching for the Order of the Stone. And even with a lot of padding, Telltale still couldn’t stretch the story out to five episodes. Sort of amusingly, after completing the first season, Telltale announced that they’re going to create three extra episodes for the game — for an additional cost, of course — just in case you didn’t find the first five episodes tedious enough. I guess it never hurts to be optimistic.
At one point during Minecraft: Story Mode, you can have Jesse examine a lever, and he/she just shrugs. That’s a perfect example of how much work and creativity went into the game, and also an indication of how worthwhile it is. Telltale is always good with their production values, so Story Mode looks like Minecraft and sounds excellent (with Patton Oswalt among others doing a nice job with their lines), but the story and gameplay elements are iffy at best. You could play Story Mode if you wanted, but — *shrug* — why bother? There are lots of better games out there.
Reviewed By: Steven Carter
Publisher: Telltale Games
This review is based on a digital copy of Minecraft: Story Mode for the PC provided by Telltale Games.