Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3
This review will avoid significant story spoilers.
Minecraft: Story Mode - A Telltale Games Series Episode 1: The Order of the Stone might have the longest complete title of any game we've ever reviewed here on GameCrate, but behind the imposing colons and sub-headings lies a very simple game. With Episode 1 Telltale's take on Minecraft avoids any spectacular reinventions of the story-heavy adventure genre they've all but perfected, and instead settles for a charming and authentic tribute to both Minecraft and its fans.
Rated E for Everyone
While Minecraft isn't necessarily a game for children, it can't be denied that younger gamers make up a significant portion of the game's fans. With that in mind, it probably isn't surprising that Story Mode looks to be the simplest and most family-friendly Telltale game in a long time -- possibly ever. The gameplay, such as it is, involves simple dodges, occasional clicks, and furious hammering on the "Q" key. It's extremely forgiving and even young gamers who may never have played a Telltale game before are unlikely to find themselves hitting any hard game overs.
The story of Episode 1 felt more than a little like "Minecraft meets The Lego Movie," which is high praise indeed. The game does a good job telling a story that starts out simple and easy to understand before growing more complicated and slightly more mature as antagonists and threats are revealed. With a central cast of likable, relatable heroes and what looks to be a fairly clear danger that will need to be overcome as the game progresses, the story feels like a perfect opening for an exciting adventure in the world of Minecraft
While Episode 1 doesn't come anywhere near the violence or strong language that's present in other Telltale titles, it's only as innocent as its source material. Players can be attacked by spiders and zombies and a pet pig can suffer a punch in the face. Still, Episode 1 is full of opportunities for the main character to be refreshingly optimistic, kind, and encouraging, and is an almost entirely positive experience.
Looks like Minecraft, sounds like a classic cartoon
The voice talent in Story Mode meshes wonderfully with the well-written dialogue to deliver an experience full of funny moments and charming characters with voices you'll likely recognize from somewhere, even if you can't always place them right away. Comedian Patton Oswalt voices the main character Jesse if you opt to play as a male, with experienced voice actress Catherine Taber taking the female Jesse role. Comedian Brian Posehn get's the bulk of Episode 1's laugh lines as Axel, while other standouts include Paul "Pee-wee Herman" Reubens as the episode's antagonist and Billy West of Futurama and Ren and Stimpy fame in a variety of roles. If you're a Telltale fan you'll also recognize Dave Fennoy, who played the lead in the first season of The Walking Dead series, as a major character.
Minecraft has long has surprisingly fantastic music, and that trend continues in Story Mode, with a score that's alternately exciting and moody, creating exactly the right atmosphere for a Minecraft adventure. The sound effects often come straight from the original game, so they're servicable and feel right.
The visuals of Story Mode are a tricky thing. On the one hand it gives you a great, Lego Movie-style thrill to see a world that's made almost entirely in authentic Minecraft fashion, with settings and set-pieces you could actually construct yourself. On the other hand, Minecraft's low-fi nature was never intended to tell a dynamic and emotional story, and the pixelated faces often struggle to convey the necessary emotion and subtlety the dialogue needs.
What comes next
After an exciting and mysterious conclusion that seems to suggest more depth and complexity in the game's story than you might first assume, Episode 1 ends with a big choice. That choice seems to point to two completely distinct versions of Episode 2, though it may in fact turn out that it only effects the order in which Episode 2's segments appear, rather than creating two separate story branches this early on. We'll just have to wait and see. Though we don't yet have a release date for the next episode, a month or two down the line would be a safe bet based on the standard Telltale formula.
As a standalone title Episode 1 doesn't offer much in the way of replay value, since there are few payoffs to your choices in the episode itself. In the long term though, as the first episode of the full Story Mode story, it's likely players will be coming back to this one again and again, and having fun every time they do it.