Notch's Minecraft truly is a phenomenon in gaming. In a couple of short years, the deviously-simple sandbox building game represents everything fundamentally great about indie game development. Going from a project created in the bedroom of the aforementioned Markus 'Notch' Persson and since riding on the back of nothing more than word alone (up until now, Minecraft has been entirely self-published), the game has now been played by millions and, along with it, earned its creator millions in the process.
But it's also a game that has evaded a sizeable chunk of the gaming audience. That is until now. Ported from Mojang's title pre-Adventure update (in fact, this is Beta 1.6.6 version) by 4J Studios and available for a not-insubstantial cost of 1,600 Microsoft Points, Xbox 360 Edition is a joy to behold. Not only does it mean you can now enjoy block-breaking escapism from the comfort of your sofa pad-in-hand, but it also happens to be every bit as inviting and enchanting as its PC sibling. While the streamlining of the user interface by 4J isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination – the combination of square grids and analogue stick control isn't cohesive, while certain items are hidden by sub-menus – the efforts to alleviate some of the less user-friendly aspects of the PC version do generally work rather well.
Gone, then, is the 2x2 and 3x3 crafting grids (the same principles still apply however) and in their wake 4J has split all items that you can possibly craft into tabbed categories. By showing items this way, it essentially guarantees players will not feel over-awed by the tool-set given to them. Instead, it's easy to see exactly what is available to you from the off and, by giving a strip-down of how each item or material is made, lend the knowledge of exactly what ingredients are needed in future. In addition, tutorials and pop-up hints about materials, game intricacies and tools help ease new Minecraftians into the experience.
The UI will take some getting used to and it's difficult not to feel like some magic of the 'crafting' element of the title has been lost alongside the changes, though these are minor gripes – the changes make perfect sense within the context of the console and happen to be a more than welcome addition to the experience when a Wiki page or YouTube tutorial video is no longer just a tab away.
Minecraft's existing user-base will know what to expect by now of course. There's that same sense of accomplishment that follows another building of one of your many inspired creations, and so too does the game hold that familiar power that Minecraft wields, allowing the game to engross you in its square-edged world. And yet, there's something undeniably missing from it all.
Given the extended development time of the Xbox 360 version, this particular version which players are introduced to is nearly a whole year behind the PC build (Version 1.6.6 debuted on May 31 2011). The amount of features that this port lacks are many and varied. Mechanics such as pistons are shunned, the jungle biome is nowhere to be seen, NPC villages no longer supplant themselves within the contours of the landscape, players can not sprint, and items are non-enchantable. Mods, texture packs, the free-form Creative mode and player skins have no place either. It's a shame, because while you might still get a long of bang for your buck in the grand scheme of things, there's no mistaking the Xbox 360 version feels pared down comparably, especially for Minecraft aficionados.
Where the Xbox 360 version makes inroads on the respective PC game is in its multiplayer. Taking over from the somewhat daunting offering on PC – often aggravating in the extreme, and a barrier for entry for many – Xbox 360 Edition is a breath of fresh air for any crafter. Drop-in/drop-out local and online multiplayer is an ease, while the numbers offered by local split-screen play (a total of four can join) and online (eight buddies can make their mark on your world at a time) are more than adequate.
The teams behind the port have reassured early adopters of the 360 version that this XBLA incarnation will continue to evolve in following the many updates made by the PC game. If the developer can avoid paid-for DLC and place a firm focus on giving players everything the aforementioned now supports, long will our love of the blocky phenomenon continue. Given the game was made profitable within an hour of going on sale this past Wednesday, it appears we're certainly not alone in hoping this version will be every match for the original. And who were we to think otherwise!? 8/10