Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition (Xbox360)

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I have two words for you: Minecraft Phenomenon.

When I took on Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition, I had volunteered to review it for nothing else but simple curiosity. Even though I’ve been seeing mention of this game in Internet articles for a while now and I’ve heard people talking in hushed tones about the game around the office water cooler, I had no idea what Minecraft was and I needed to find out for myself what all the fuss was about.

Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition Screenshot 1

In terms of most recent Xbox LIVE Arcade games, it’s a very modestly sized download and in fact I’m certain half the reason it’s the most downloaded XBLA title in its first 24 hours after release is because it’s so small. Why is it so small, I hear you ask? Well, that’s simple – the game’s graphics basically comprise stacked low-resolution blocks, and the game’s sound is a primitive assortment of mostly synthesised bits. The best way to describe the graphics is the Dire Straits music video ‘Money for Nothing’ meets Lego.

With this mental picture in mind, the game looks hideously outdated but thankfully – to borrow from an old literary saying – avid gamers do not judge a game by its cover screen.

Not quite a chip off the old block… this is revolutionary!

At first play, Minecraft felt quite painful, akin to a developer’s first efforts at writing a game. It isn’t flashy or visually impressive. It’s slow, there’s too much menu stuff to negotiate, and the music is rather dull and dreary. Most short-sighted and impatient gamers would probably discard the game quite quickly because it isn’t your standard run-of-the-mill action blockbuster with high fidelity graphics and 8.3 THX-rated surround sound.

Thankfully (in this instance), reviewing a game requires strict perseverance and dedication, and with this review title these attributes pay off. If you’ll pardon the pun, Minecraft is going to require the players doing a bit of digging to uncover the pure gem that Minecraft truly is.

Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition Screenshot 2

I’ll say it now – Minecraft is so good that I’ve actually had to stop playing it. If you give Mincecraft some time, you’ll soon be sucked in. Your time spent pounding trees and mining dirt in the game will spiral out of control just like the deep open pits you’ll have dug into the world’s terrain. You’ll forget to eat and will miss your bedtime because you’re too busy trying to get that last little bit of your master plan done. Yes, this game is a fun volcano blended into a time vortex.

I’ve played this game almost non-stop since I’ve received it and I’ve spent hours playing split-screen multiplayer. The game supports up to four players drop-in / drop-out on a local Xbox or up to eight over Xbox LIVE, but the real beauty of Minecraft is how deep and rich the game environment is and just how much freedom players have to explore, dig, build, and create.

Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition Screenshot 3

Even the multiplayer is left up to you: we’ve tried our hand at cooperative gameplay as well as a free-for-all. The choice is yours. Play a challenge level where two players are tasked with building a self-contained double-storey home while the other two must use natural disasters to thwart their goal. Fancy racing to be the first to corral a pig? The first to build the highest tower? The deepest dungeon? It’s all up to you and that’s at the heart of Minecraft – absolute freedom and no boundaries, apart from the ones you create.

You can be crafty, if you want to be…

It’s not quite a puzzle game but it can be played like as such (I’ve heard rumours that someone built a fully operational in-game calculator with relays and switches), or played just like a kingdom building adventure. Whatever your tastes, this game offers almost everything.

My friend Andrew has unleashed his two young boys on the game and they’ve already unravelled the mysteries of glass making and gravity, fluid dynamics, and smelting. Real-life lessons! Oltman, my wife, and I built a communal hobbit hole complete with bedside tables and lamps (little did they know I had a secret tunnel leading to my own underground forest and second home).

Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition Screenshot 4

This particular adventure revealed a lot to me about the diversity within the game – I tamed five wolves that followed me everywhere. Not being allowed to keep my pets in the house, I created a pressure pad system linked to our front door so my wolves could come and go when they needed to, without distracting the inhabitants of the home. Do you get the idea of how awesome this game can be?

The developers put a lot of thought into this one… they were very mineful indeed!

There’s too much to talk about in this game – do you like zombies? Check. Bad nasty monsters that come out at night? Check. Livestock to sheer, eat, ride, or let loose? Check. Lava waterfalls? Check. Weapon-crafting? Check. Digital tinkering? Check! I simply can’t give this game enough credit in my short review space – this is one of the best games I’ve ever played and is certainly a strong contender for a few awards this year. It’s a complete breath of fresh air and there’s been nothing like it before that I’ve seen or played.

Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition Screenshot 5

The starting price for this title is 1600 Microsoft Points, which is truly hefty for an Xbox LIVE Arcade title, but in this case it’s Points well spent. This game will endure for a long time and the best part is all future updates for the game will be free – and there are a few interesting updates on the horizon, including mods, texture packs and rumoured Xbox Kinect functionality, as well as cross-platform playability with the PC version.

“Shall this be mine?” you ask?

If you’re sitting on the fence about whether or not to buy this game my only advice to you is this: If you’re looking for a reason to chip away time then look no further than Minecraft. If you are worried that your time is precious, or if you’re studying for exams, need to work long hours or wake up really early most days, if you need to work on a relationship with your significant other, or if you’re prone to the ‘just one more turn’ sickness, do not buy this game!

It is extremely, highly, unforgivably addictive and you will lose more time in Minecraft than you can dare to imagine. It’s a fantastic game and for this reason anyone fitting into the latter group of people should definitely not try this at home. You and your social life have been warned. It has my vote for best arcade title of 2012, by far!

The Good: It’s good fun for all ages; It’s educational; Absolute freedom to do what you want; Best Xbox LIVE Arcade title this year

The Bad: There’s no getting away from the addictiveness of this game