Review: Minecraft (Mobile)

I have pretty much avoided playing Minecraft prior to this review. It just struck me as the type of game that is a massive time suck, and one that has to be so – meaning, only playing it for a “little while” doesn’t really seem like an option, and would be about as sufficient to the game’s overall purpose as only playing the first dungeon in an RPG or the first three levels of a platform game. I tend to say that I don’t “have time” to play games that require a minimum of months and months of time investment, although I should clarify that a bit as it makes me a hypocrite to make that claim given how one of my biggest pet peeves is when people tell the lie that they don’t have time for video games at all (and yes, as I pointed out in this rant I wrote awhile back, most people that say that are, in fact, lying). It isn’t that I literally don’t have the time for Minecraft – it’s that I don’t find Minecraft compelling enough to sacrifice the dozen or so other games I’d have to sacrifice in order to have the baseline “complete” Minecraft experience. I realize how much of a broken record I sound like right now. Anybody who has read my feelings on MMOs, my half of our debate on whether it’s better to play less of more games than more of less games, or my review of Dark Souls, already knows that I have strong feelings – bordering on resentment – of games that basically force you to give triple-digit hours of your life in order to play the game as it is intended. And Minecraft is definitely that type of game. Only “dabbling” in Minecraft doesn’t really seem like an option.

That said, I don’t resent Minecraft. In fact, Minecraft is easily my favorite of the “half of your free time for the next two years minimum required” games that I’ve played since that type of game has been resurrected in the 21st century. For starters, the barrier of entry is much lower than in most games of that ilk. Pointing at things and clicking on things is basically all the core “gameplay” consists of. And the base objective of the game is simple and absolutely never changes no matter how long you play: build stuff. Well, build stuff while not dying, depending on which mode you choose: survival or creative. I kind of feel like survival mode is the “real” game and creative mode is just the fun, messing around part of the package, so in the interests of actually playing Minecraft proper with the limited amount of time I was willing to devote to it, I decided to play survival mode.

I was dropped into a world that looks like how you’d imagine an Atari game would look if you actually stepped into it a la Wreck-It Ralph. It’s definitely a very unique look visually, and while I am all about old school and pixels and can appreciate a game’s graphics when they are very stylized in lieu of being the textbook definition of a “good-looking game,” Minecraft‘s graphics never really did it for me. In all honesty, that ended up being the thread that began to unravel my whole experience. I actually really love the idea of a game where you begin with nothing but your wits and ingenuity, and you must use them both to gather resources and build a shelter during the limited daylight hours in order to be protected from the deadly creatures that come out at night. It’s a great concept, and one that, in the hands of a less creative game, would quickly devolve into just another zombie slaughter action game starring a character who very quickly would become an unstoppable, shotgun-wielding badass, rather than someone who has to start with the most basic materials possible, literally with only your bare hands at the beginning, as you gather wood and sand and stone to build your shelter, tools, fireplace, and so on. Again, though, the graphics kill it for me. I found it impossible to feel any sort of tension or urgency against “monsters” that really do look like they were built out of Legos. The equally “retro” growls and groans they made as the rolled toward me – and the silly backwards bounce animation a bad guy did when I’d punch him – didn’t do their ferociousness any favors, either. I couldn’t be afraid of a creature who looked like a rectangular cactus on a pogo stick as it chased me up a hill.

The stuff of nightmares…if you’re 5.

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe it’s not supposed to be a “scary” game. But that is the thing that would’ve made me feel like I absolutely had to get my shelter built and my weapons crafted as quickly as possible, and made me feel like I needed to put in the time to make for an ever-bigger shelter and ever-badder weapons in order to face what I’m sure would eventually be ever-stronger enemies. For me, it wasn’t a compelling enough foundation to hang months of play time on, and basically I would’ve been doing the stuff just to do it – which, I would imagine, is what the game actually ends up being for most people. And that’s fine. All negativity aside, I actually don’t hate this game. I respect a lot of what it does, and I definitely feel far less baffled by people wanting to go all-in on this game and rack up the days playing the game as I do most other games that people poor that kind of time into.

Ultimately, I think what I have discovered about myself is that I simply don’t get into the kinds of games that you live in. The kinds of games that you don’t simply play – you inhabit them. Video games are definitely escapist entertainment for me, and there are games that I “escape into” more than others. For example, I’ve mentioned this before, but I absolutely loved Fallout 3. It is a serious contender for my favorite game of the last generation, and a no-brainer inclusion in my all-time top 10. I not only played the game’s story mode to completion, which in and of itself is an accomplishment for me with a game of that length, and not only did I do every single side mission, but I also explored absolutely every nook and cranny of that game. I walked from one end of the map to the other, inspected everything that wasn’t just a bush or a rock, walked into every building, opened every drawer, picked up every piece of junk. I couldn’t get enough. And when I finally beat it, I definitely felt that sense of sadness that you get when you finish a really great game/movie/book/TV show. So I was ecstatic when they announced the Broken Steel expansion. It picked up where the main game left off, continued the story, gave you more side missions, and added more map to explore. Well, I played it for about an hour, and it just didn’t grab me. I realized that, while I loved my time with Fallout 3 and didn’t want it to end, it did end. I finished it. It was over. I didn’t really need more of it. I didn’t need it to go on forever. I didn’t need to continue living in that world any longer than I already had. Which brings me back to Minecraft. I feel like you have to live in Minecraft in order to get out of it what you are supposed to get out of it. I’m simply not interested in doing that. While I get more “into” games than I do any other type of media, I still don’t ultimately treat them much differently: I go into each one for awhile, experience them, finish them, and move onto the next one.

Video games are a nice place to visit, but I don’t want to live there.