Do you have a family with kids who like Minecraft? Then you should be playing Minecraft: Story Mode with them right now! That’s what I just did before writing this article and we had a blast with the first episode.
Story Mode covers the time-worn but enjoyable tale of a group of friends that have to step up and face a challenge larger than they ever imagined possible. Your group is attending EnderCon with the goal of winning a competition for building the best structure. Things take a turn when Jessie assists her friend Petra in chasing a mysterious figure who stiffed her on a deal, taking her Wither Skull without paying as promised. In the ensuing hijinks a new type of Wither, called a Wither Storm, is released upon the world. Our adventurers have to track down a legendary cadre of ancient heroes to help stop it.
Telltale has done an incredible job bringing the Minecraft universe to life. My kids (aged 8 and 10 and both avid players of Minecraft) loved identifying all sorts of objects and creatures. At one point, the characters were walking into a dimly lit cave and my daughter piped up: “Why did they use redstone torches? Everyone knows they don’t make enough light.”
This careful depiction of Minecraft is no accident. Job Stauffer, Head of Creative Communications at Telltale Games, told me at PAX that the majority of the assets were actually built in Minecraft before being imported to Telltale’s engine and brought to life. The details weren’t just limited to the visual appeal; I was very pleased with the voice acting (including a number of notable talents) and the inclusiveness: character selection included a variety of skin tones and both male and female skins. This means that the protagonist’s dialogue had to be recorded in full twice, and it was greatly appreciated by my daughter, who promptly chose a female avatar for us to play.
Story Mode follows Telltale Games’ adventure game format found in The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us: you move a character around the screen, interacting with the environment to solve puzzles, talk to other characters, and participate in quick time events (such as dodging enemy attacks by pushing in the direction of a flashing arrow). Telltale Games’ other offerings in this field have been an interesting take on the adventure game: the puzzles have been lighter than traditional games, but the emphasis on character development and gut-wrenching player decisions have been where the games made their mark. There is definitely less of this element in Minecraft: Story Mode, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I wasn’t looking for gut-wrenching, I was looking for a fun family adventure.
And a family adventure is what we got! While the kids soaked in the Minecraft lore, my wife and I got to enjoy the pop culture references including Babe (“That’ll do pig, that’ll do”), a construction montage (played out with quick time events that had the whole family laughing), and an incredible slow-motion opening credits sequence as our characters jumped from a bridge. The story also hearkens back to family adventure movies from the ’80s and that should be no surprise: Stauffer told me that their team had been inspired by The Goonies and Ghostbusters when writing the game.
However, take note how much I’ve focused on family. Story Mode was a great experience played as a family on the couch, passing the controller around. It could be equally enjoyable for your kids to play on their own, I’m certain. However, I’m not so sure that the game would hold up for you as an adult on your own. Even though I like Minecraft, and Story Mode was well written, I think the content would be a little shallow for me in comparison to The Walking Dead (though choices may not show their full impact until a few more episodes are released, so I may be pleasantly surprised). But for the low price and time investment, if you’re a fan of both Telltale’s other games and Minecraft, it’s probably worth checking out.
As much as I enjoyed the game time with my family, I think my review ultimately comes down to this: my kids went to bed talking about wanting to play the next episode, and woke up talking about it again. They’ve reflected on the decisions we’ve made and want to go back and try different paths. This was a great family evening and we’re all looking forward to Episode 2.
As a final note, Minecraft: Story Mode is rated ESRB 10 for fantasy violence and mild language. There were a couple of mildly tense moments, so you’ll want to consider your own children’s development and your parenting style, but I had no issues with my 8-year-old playing. The game is available at $5 an episode on various platforms, or on Steam as a season pass for $25. I’ll be sure to share my impressions of Episode 2 when it comes out.
Note: this review was based on the game’s release version, played on the PC through Steam, using an XBox 360 controller.