Title: Minecraft: Story Mode, Episode 1, ‘The Order of the Stone’
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release date: October 13 2015
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Frequently funny action-adventure with some cool set-pieces and a merry band of nominal losers, Minecraft: Story Mode successfully takes the Telltale formula and applies it to Mojang’s Minecraft setting. With this game, Telltale were aiming to appeal to a younger demographic. The story they tell is quite akin to that one might find in a family movie. Indeed, when Mojang and Telltale met up earlier this year to decide what they wanted the story in Story Mode to look like, they looked to The Goonies, Ghostbusters and Pixar movies for inspiration. It shows.
In Story Mode, you play as Jesse – A character whose gender and skin tone depends on your selection. Jesse is partaking in a building competition with their friends. The group in general is fairly desperate to win. This one team keeps winning years in a row and, because they have a very binary view of success, they consider themselves to be failures for failing to come first.
Now, this opening section featured tame examples of bullying and I’ve seen many of them in my time – so I, naturally, felt it was a bit overdone. However, there was also a QTE-heavy montage scene with blaring inspirational music overlayed. I’ve never been a part of a training montage before (to my knowledge) and so I relished in the novelty. From a more utilitarian perspective, it’s also a very neat, low-stakes way of introducing the player to the basic controls. After the first half hour, the narrative takes a turn for a more traditional Hero’s Journey. A series of strange happenstances befall you leading you to set out on a fantastical quest.
I liked the characterization in this – in particular of the cool, collected and definitely dangerous Petra. As well as of Lukas – a timid, fairly polite guy who incidentally happens to be the leader of the group who keeps out-doing you. I also liked the level of disagreements between characters. They weren’t statically presented, the writers appear to have given a lot of thought to how each one would interact with another. My main criticism of the story is that the pacing seemed a little off. Around about the middle, tension reached a high-point and then fizzled. It continued in peaks and troughs right through to the end. Despite the episode’s fairly short runtime- less than two hours, in my experience- there were several points in the game where I thought the end was imminent.
Moreover, the antagonist’s motivations don’t follow any noticeable logic. Still, to focus so much on technicalities would feel like a vain exercise to me. I don’t want to hold Story Mode to the same standards I might Telltale’s other offerings, because it’s aimed at a younger audience. On the other hand, maybe I’m wrong in that regard and kids are deserving of antagonists who’s reasoning makes a lick of sense.
In terms of how well it functions as a Minecraft game, I am not perhaps the best person to ask because I don’t play a lot of Minecraft at all. Appealing to fans of Minecraft, I was told, was very important to Telltale and there are very many nods to that game throughout the episode. You participate in a building contest and you can use a craft table when prompted at various junctures. In some combat sections, you’ll get a health-bar that looks like the one from Minecraft. However, combat isn’t effectively replicated. For instance, you won’t necessarily have to face off the horde of zombies it looks like you’ll have to face. When it comes to crafting or building, you select from a list of pre-existing options.
It seems that nods towards Minecraft have to be fairly cursory. These are diametrically different games. Minecraft tends to be used for creative endeavours. Telltale games feature tightly scripted dialogue and prescriptive stories. Now, I’m sure that they’ve done a good job faithfully representing the world, but I can’t imagine they’re ever going to capture the spirit of Minecraft. This, I’m fine with. I would be though; I’m more of a fan of Telltale than Minecraft.
Still, I doubt very much that many people would go into this game expecting to create. Really, I’m just expressing concern that the people who really like Minecraft may not be the people who like this game. However, even if they are very different experiences, I’m sure that there’s a sizeable amount of people who will enjoy both Minecraft and this episode.
I just want it to do well! Which, I guess, means I liked it.
- I like how some people see Reuben, Jesse’s pig friend, as food or ‘inventory’ whilst Jesse cares deeply for Reuben. I think this is going to teach a lot of kids about moral relativity.
- Turns out, I made some rather different choices from most people according to the stats. This made me feel rare and special.
- The mine-cart section. Of course, I put my hands in the air
- When I said ‘frequently funny’, was I also implying that sometimes it tries to be and isn’t?- Yes. Yes, I was.
- May not appeal to fans of Minecraft.
- Plot doesn’t seem to be the strongest.
Game reviewed at a preview event in London.
Aspects of cartoonish, fantasy violence. Beyond that, nothing that could be deemed unsuitable- in my opinion.