If you’ve been living in a cave for the past couple years, you might need bringing up to speed on Minecraft. As the name suggests, Minecraft is a game requiring mining and crafting in a simple three-dimensional world, with randomly generated blocks of many different types available that you can manipulate to your liking. With very simple but effective presentation, the charming 8-bit themed environment allows a lot of room for imagination and leeway when it comes to being productive with its resources. Creativity, as well as improvisation are crucial to get the most out of Minecraft.
The game is very much one of two halves, with a survival and creative mode the ways to play. Creative mode is just completely open, giving you access to all the blocks and items in the game as well as the ability to fly. With this degree of flexibility you are left to your own devices to experiment with anything you want, whether it be large or small-scale structures, block based reproductions of real world landmarks or even an intricate working calculator through clever use of Redstone, which is essential Minecraft’s electrical system.
Whilst creative mode is incredibly addictive – and you will lose many hours to it, survival mode is what I would call the true Minecraft experience, with mining and crafting in the middle of nowhere at its core. Collecting and crafting a small set of tools and resources to start, you will gradually build up your dirt shack into a massive fortress reaching from bedrock to the sky. If you are looking for a “point” to Minecraft, it does have progression you can optionally go through, which includes several dungeon style environments and increasingly stronger mobs to fight, which will ultimately lead to fight with the Ender Dragon – followed by a credits screen. You can also ignore the main quest completely and just take part in the multiple activities offered by the game. Go hunting, farming, fighting, building, potion brewing, or much more if you have the time. There is also a simple levelling system that is fed by kills, mining, breeding animals, and several other productive tasks that you can then use to upgrade weapons, tools, and armour. Anything that prolongs your existence within the game.
Where the game truly comes alive is through multiplayer, with the same experience available with other players. Multiplayer works online or ad-hoc with up to 4 total players, which although lower than the console versions still offers tremendous fun. I was impressed with the amount of server options available to a host such as allowing your friend’s friends to drop into your game or require an invitation and approval in order to break your blocks. It’s really great for people who don’t trust anybody and perhaps just want to show off their world without any worries of people causing grief or destroying their masterpieces. The last thing you want to do is to build something truly epic, only for someone to absolutely decimate it through some shrewd use of TNT…
The game features cross-save with the PlayStation 3, allowing worlds to be transferred between that and the Vita and works just fine, albeit a bit on the slow side. There were some occasional issues with inventory saving on transferred saves, playing “offline” appears to manage this without a problem and I’m sure 4J Studios will be fixing it very soon. Compared to the Dualshock 3 and 4 controls schemes I found the Vita controls worked very well with the directional buttons used in place of the missing bumpers and button analogy, and using the touchscreen is also an option with menus and items. There is no use of the rear touch pad.
Visually, the game runs as you would expect on the Vita. While it’s not running at a silky smooth 30fps like the PlayStation 3 counterpart, Minecraft Vita is still pretty consistent in terms of frame rate and never gets to an unplayable amount of choppiness. There is a noticeable frame rate drop when the game is loading up larger environments, in multiplayer or when a lot going on at the same time but for the most parts it’s all very decent and never unplayable. Vita render distance is a little on the short side, which is understandable given the disparity between the Vita and the PS3 although with the size of the Vita’s screen it’s probably a wise compromise. The only real problem I had with any of the usual gameplay due to the smaller screen/render distance was fighting the Enderdragon and other long distance enemies, as they would occasionally go out of my render distance and disappear for a while. For those that are not fans of the 8-bit visual style, there are texture packs available which can offer different look to the blocks, including a more natural look if that’s more your thing. They will still be blocky though!
Menus are very to-the-point and are very much in tune with the minimal style of the whole game. I found the tab based crafting system used in the Vita (and console) version of Minecraft makes the game more accessible and convenient than it ever was on PC. All you have to worry about is getting the right resources, no need to memorize or look up 3×3 crafting formations. The inventory and chests screens sometimes felt pretty small and cramped since they are the same ones used on the big screen console versions of Minecraft, but it still works just as well and I only ever had trouble telling the difference between the various types of stones or sand resources at a glance. Most of the available items and resources are very colourful and unique from one another so confusion doesn’t arise too often.
The sounds of Minecraft are also quite brilliant, the soundtrack is a perfect mix of relaxing and spooky to fit the games alone in the wilderness gameplay. Combined with a great use of sound effects can be your queue to know what is around the corner, or not. You could hear the groan of a zombie to know a dungeon is right through a stone face, or not hear a thing until the hiss of a creeper comes crawling up, decimating the immediate area upon exploding.
I have played Minecraft on multiple platforms over the past four years and for countless hours, and I am happy to say I am still completely addicted to it. Just this first week I have put some solid hours into the Vita version alone and I’m still always thinking of what to do next, creatively or in my survival adventures. The Pocket Edition has demonstrated that Minecraft on the go is very relevant and incredibly popular, having outsold every other version. Given that the Vita version is essentially the PlayStation 3 version in your hands it’s easily the most complete portable Minecraft experience. The trophies also allow for a pretty straightforward platinum which I think is a great motivation to try out different parts of the game.
The Vita edition manages to fit all the core gameplay, charm, and creativity of its big screen counterparts into the palm of your hand, anywhere you go and has almost endless lasting appeal. Certainly a must have for all Vita-owning Minecraft fans, and for those that like to be creative. If you are a non Vita-owning Minecraft fan, it’s arguably worth buying a Vita for.