Such is the game’s incredible reach that, when this journalist was working in the developing country of Laos, a place where The Beatles and One Direction are complete unknowns, the children there were playing Minecraft every day. Minecraft: Story Mode is a completely new turn for the franchise. In some ways, it’s an attempt to give identity to a game that has never really had one.
Minecraft itself is a building game with no single iconic image or character. It has no plot or conflict. Minecraft: Story Mode is the complete opposite - an adventure game, an interactive TV show. Like Telltale’s previous releases – including the excellent The Walking Dead – this is a game about choices.
Playing as Jesse, voiced brilliantly by Patton Oswalt, you begin the story planning to win a building competition, but things soon take a turn for the epic. Before long, the fate of the world is at stake, with Jesse and his friends at the heart of the rescue mission. While there are interactive ‘action’ moments, the experience primarily relies on conversation choices. Every time a choice needs to be made, a timer counts down, giving you limited time to make up your mind.
The choice you make influences the story and how other characters perceive Jesse. In that sense, it’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure experience, wrapped up in the guise of a Saturday-morning cartoon. While Story Mode is aimed at younger players, the tone is more in line with The Lego Movie. It’s a very funny game, especially in terms of dialogue, full of witty asides and sarcasm.
It’s also surprisingly layered in its character conflict. When Jesse’s close-knit band of friends are joined by an outsider, Lukas, the tension between Lukas and Axel is difficult to navigate. You just know something’s got to give, but it’s impossible to know how your choices will affect the outcome. You simply have to play with your gut. That’s all part of the fun with Telltale games.
So, Minecraft: Story Mode is funny, brilliantly acted and gives some much-needed identity to the Minecraft world, but there are downsides. For a start, the iconic Minecraft graphics – blocky and limited – are charming at first, but soon start to limit the story. This is not a world designed for cinematic storytelling. Secondly, with this being episode one of a five-episode story, the price is €6.99 for about 90 minutes gameplay, with no resolution to the plot until Episode Five (another €6.99) comes out in a few months.
Despite that, younger fans of Minecraft will probably love Story Mode. It also represents a great chance for adults to play with their children or younger siblings. After all these years of crafting pickaxes and swords, they’ll surely enjoy crafting a good story for a change.
Speaking of mines, bats sometimes live there. In this case, however, it’s the canary in the coal mine we’re concerned with. Batman: Arkham Knight will serve as a warning to developers in the future – in an unprecedented move, Warner Brothers are now offering full refunds on the PC version of the game, five months after its release.