Climbing Out of My Cubic Rock
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably played some incarnation of Minecraft, the phenomenon that’s one part resourceful survival game and another part creative block building simulator. Well, I have a confession: I’ve been living under that rock and haven’t ever touched Minecraft…until now.
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In a way, I’m thankful I waited for Minecraft: Switch Edition to formally dive into the series. This version includes all the core concepts found in all console editions. Explore a large, randomly generated blocky world to call your own. Mine the cubes around you for resources, then use those to craft structures, tools, armor, and anything else you can think of. In Survival mode, you must manage your resources carefully during the day so that you can avoid or defeat the perilous creatures that emerge at night. Creative mode downplays the danger and removes the crafting restrictions so you can focus on building whatever you want. You can even fly freely in this mode. A hefty playable tutorial helped familiarize me with both basic and advanced techniques, although I had to play it a few times to understand the game’s complexities.
Between these modes, I preferred Survival mode for its emphasis on exploration and resource management. The prerequisite of gathering specific resources to create better materials motivated me with its sense of progression. The crafting is, thankfully, simplistic (unless you turn on the more complex Classic Crafting). I can navigate the menus easily enough although there is unfortunately little touchscreen support. Early on, I felt accomplished after building my first house from scratch, and my heart was racing after I escaped a lava-filled dungeon by mining my way out. I’m only scratching the surface here: magic, minecarts, levers, wings – the sky’s the limit. There is a way to “beat” the game, but testing my limits and improving my abilities are what drew me in day after day. Creative mode also allows for goal setting, though it focuses on what you want to make as opposed to why you have to build. This will appeal to those with big imaginations or a penchant for Lego blocks.
Just like with Lego building, you get out what you put in. If you go in with aspirations to make something grand, Minecraft gives you a wide sandbox and an array of styles to produce your masterpieces. The more you invest into crafting a personalized world, the more you’ll adore it. If you’re not as big on creating and are mostly interested in seeing others’ works, then there’s less to like.
You can visit others’ worlds online, but only if you are friends on the system and only while they are online. I haven’t visited many other worlds as a result. While it’s fun to see what others have crafted and exciting to build something with an online acquaintance, the experience suffers from a lack of in-game chat. I would have appreciated voice chat to converse with visitors and hosts. The bigger shame is that there isn’t even in-game text chat. The best I could come up with to communicate is crafting a sign and hoping that a friend sees it. Unless you use an external medium, interaction is nearly nonexistent.
At the very least, there are premade worlds you can play in. The Super Mario world, exclusive to the Nintendo Switch and Wii U versions, is one of the most detailed and fun to explore, especially for a big Nintendo fan. As a plus for Switch owners, the Super Mario customized textures and player skins are free. Though it only alters the visual style, seeing a world of Piranha Plants, Tanooki suits, and other Mario-themed decorations went a long way in increasing my enjoyment value. There are other premade worlds and texture packs that caught my interest, but they’re only available as demos until you plop down more money for the content.
There is also split-screen multiplayer for up to four players—if you have local players and enough controllers. Note that you need a full pair of Joy-Con controllers or a traditional controller for each player, making local play a costly venture. Aside from cooperating in a map together, you can engage in 8-player competitive modes: Battle, Tumble, and the newly added Glide. Battle is a fight to the death whereas Tumble opts for a king-of-the-hill approach. I’m not as fond of the difficult-to-control Glide. They’re decent diversions, but they lack the depth of the main crafting game. Also, I’ve experienced much more lag and connection errors during these games.
The game employs the classic blocky visuals that the series is known for. Although the maps aren’t as big as the other console versions, they are larger than the Wii U’s and other pocket editions by far. It’s impressive how much the Switch can churn out, given how many assets are on the screen, while the game consistently runs at 60fps. The draw distance suffers, and you can’t always see what’s far ahead of you, but that’s a small price to pay. I liked the calm music, which easily faded into the background as I crafted away. The texture pack you’re using determines what music plays, and the Super Mario pack delivers fanservice with the entire track list from Super Mario 64.
It’s easy to write off Minecraft: Switch Edition as a cash cow and standard port. It doesn’t help that a lack of voice chat and restrictions on how to visit other worlds limit online play. But if you shift focus to the system it’s running on, this version stands out. Thanks to the Switch’s unique hybrid capabilities, you can play in the same customized world on both the big and small screens. You can play however and wherever, which is a big draw for this open-ended game. If I were younger, I could see myself building massive designs on a TV, then showing off my creations on the Switch tablet. Thanks to the Switch edition’s pick-up-and-play versatility, combined with the free and exclusive Super Mario Mash-up Pack, this is one of the best versions I could have started out with and is an ideal purchase for fans on-the-go and newcomers alike.
A review copy was used for this article. This review was originally written in June 2017 for Darkstation. This version and the video are slightly updated with footage and information about the Version 1.0.6 Update which includes Glide Mode and 1080p resolution.