Have you been waiting to punch trees on your iPhone? Prepare to wait longer…
For the record, I have been playing Minecraft since alpha. I remember those days, when I yearned for more than just a generated world and blocks to fill it. I wanted enemies, weapons, tools… I wanted adventure. Markus “Notch” Persson, the creator of Minecraft and head of Mojang Studios, would handily deliver with his “survival” update to the game, which removed the god-like creative mode powers in favor of more realistic methods of gathering wood, mining resources, and crafting tools. Minecraft: Pocket Edition is an alpha release (0.1.2 as of writing) of the game, and feels very much the same as it’s PC/Mac predecessor did in it’s early stages. It is for this reason that I can’t in good conscience write an official review of Minecraft: PE.
From what I’ve heard, Mojang plans on adding features and improving on the game throughout development much as it has done with the original Minecraft, which is finally getting a “final” release today (November 18th, 2011). In it’s current state, Minecraft PE is a very simplified version of the original creative mode. You enter a randomly generated world (with the ability to generate specific play worlds using “seed” numbers) and are given a very limited set of blocks to build as you wish. The world size is quite small, and is not virtually infinite as the PC version boasts. When you reach the edge of the world, you are unnervingly greeted with white empty space.
Alone, I found as much enjoyment in creative mode as I did the original Minecraft- or rather, not that much enjoyment. After tasting the fruits of Mojang’s labor in Minecraft’s survival mode, being forced to relive my jaded memories of creative mode didn’t keep my attention long. Luckily, there is a really easy option (enabled by default) that instantly turns your active world into a multiplayer server for anyone who is joined to the network you’re iOS device is on. This allows friends to join up to embark on joint building projects in your world. While really easy to use, the multiplayer lacks very basic features. For instance, if you quit to the home screen while someone is in your world, they are not disconnected from the server, or even informed that you have left the game. They will continue to build, and anything they do won’t be seen when you load the game up again. They will also need to manually rejoin your world after this happens. Another missing feature is the custom skin/username feature for those who have paid for a copy of Minecraft. I was really hoping that the game would load my account from Minecraft.net, which includes a my custom skin. You can change your character name, but everyone who joins multiplayer will have the default “Steve” skin.
Lack of multiplayer features or survival mode aside, I am very impressed with how well Minecraft: PE runs on my iPhone 4. The draw distance, while limited, isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would have to be. I played around a bit with the Xperia Play version of the game at E3 earlier this year, and I feel like the iOS version runs/looks a bit better. Granted, my iPhone doesn’t feature joypads, but Minecraft PE controls surprisingly well despite that fact. You automatically jump up one-block -high ledges, and the middle of the d-pad contains an extra jump button if needed. Placing and destroying blocks works extremely well, with a quickly expanding circle warning you that you are about to destroy a block. I still accidentally destroyed and placed blocks on occasion, but I didn’t feel it was much worse than on my PC.
It’s hard to say if Minecraft PE is worth the $6.99/£4.99 asking price, because it is obviously an unfinished product. Considering that the original Minecraft alpha version sold for £9.99, half-price for the mobile version doesn’t seem half bad. Quite frankly, if you are a current fan of Minecraft who is looking to get a good fix on the road, you will probably be disappointed. For an alpha build of a game, Minecraft PE runs well, and provides a bit of fun for you and your friends. Outside of that, we’ll just have to wait and see what Notch & friends have in mind as the game is inevitably updated in the future. I can think of 20 features off the top of my head that I would love to see in the game, but at the moment I’m pretty sure Minecraft PE is already following in the footsteps of it’s addictive big brother.
Quick note for fellow Minecraft nerds: I will be at MineCon in Las Vegas this weekend! If you manage to find me and my lovely lady friend, I will be quite impressed.