Developers: Telltale Games, Mojang
Publishers: Telltale Games
Plot: Jesse and her friends are determined to win Endercon, a Minecraft building tournament, but ends up getting wrapped up in a global catastrophe.
Telltale Games were once the biggest thing on the block. The Walking Dead opened the gaming world’s eyes to what a game could be. The series format created the foundations for endless franchises, as well as room for fanbase building, while the choice style and emotional resonance was something that the Walking Dead took to new heights. Since then, things have faltered slightly. Telltale are still performing admirably with Tales of the Borderlands and Game of Thrones doing perfectly satisfyingly in their own way, but their success has inspired more styles. At the moment, Life is Strange is dominating the gaming series charts as well as the more hard-hitting choices, while other similar styles are cropping up and building off what Telltale started. In many ways, Telltale is being drowned out by its own success. They now seem like the developers trapped in the past, over-taken by those inspired by it. Nothing has quite shaken the gaming world from Telltale like the first season of Walking Dead (although I personally think the Wolf Among Us came bloody close), and it is time for a change. Enter Telltale’s Minecraft. It is such an odd idea that it first seemed like Twitter was parodying Telltale’s style rather than this being a serious game announcement. Minecraft is worlds away from anything that can be moulded into some form of narrative, the idea of a structured story robbing Minecraft of the freedom it was created to convey in the first place. However, as soon as it was confirmed as big news, it became an interesting experiment. Telltale needed a change of style to shake up the routine that was trapping it and Minecraft seemed like an excellent way to shake up everything we thought we knew about Telltale.
It is unclear whether it has worked or not as of yet. That opening gambit shines of imagination and invention. Everything about its design is brilliantly Minecraft. Telltale have scrapped their own look and feel when it comes to visuals to go full Notch. The characters are built from blocks, the landscape is identical to something out of Minecraft, albeit spruced up with tidier animation, and when a creature from the Minecraft world (pig, spider, zombie) crops up in the story, it looks like it is ripped right out of the original game. It is the little things that make you chuckle appreciatively. The inventory bar on the left side of the screen is exactly like Minecraft’s. The health bar is also mirroring the source materials, although it is less useful. Knowledge of the game is handy too, especially when you are asked to craft materials. Thankfully Minecraft’s sword-building system is logical upon reflection, so newbies won’t be lost, but it does offer some thoughtful puzzle-solving moments. While it definitely isn’t a game of Minecraft, you are fooled into buying you are in that universe quite often. Then it is simply a matter of capturing that sense of fun. This is Telltale’s most humorous and light-hearted vision yet, your best friend an emotive pig and the action kept to slapstick running around. One scene where you take on a Golem in a lab could be ripped right out of a LEGO adaptation of Scooby Doo. This child-friendly approach to Telltale might frustrate some. The game never quite grips like Telltale’s other series do, always cutting tension off at the head with a soothing gag. The story seems to rush from scene to scene, rather than branch out with any kind of narrative flair. One moment you are in a building competition, then you are rushing to save your pig from creepers, and then you bump into your friend, who then takes you to a creepy back alley drop-off… much like a child’s cartoon, it seems to run wherever the story takes it, almost making it up as it goes along. It does get tense nearer the end, introducing one of the more dangerous Minecraft villains to the gamer, but for a lot of the playthrough, it is more of a fun distraction than a must-see piece of gaming.
And Telltale seem to get sort of stuck getting around this. Before long it falls back into familiar territory, only this time, it feels like broader strokes rather than the subtle the developers are used to. You have to pick which friend to side with, which friend to save – only this time the fear of death is removed from the equation. In Walking Dead, a wrong move could equal the death of your favourite character. Here, there is nothing really hanging about to pressure you into making a wrong move. You can predict when the choices are going to pop up before they do, so nothing shocks you as it has done with previous Telltale entries. Perhaps I am letting Telltale’s past get in the way of my review. Maybe this is simply Telltale stretching their target audience to the ten year olds who play Minecraft by crave something slightly different. This is Telltale without the grim realities, coasting along rather than trying to shake us off. And I didn’t hate playing Minecraft: Story Mode. I simply forgot about it as soon as I put the controller down. I didn’t feel the desire to have to play the next episode. And for me, that is what gaming series should all be about.
Final Verdict: Good fun, especially with the Minecraft in-jokes, but it does feel slightly routine and under-cooked thanks to the child-friendly tone.