Telltale continues to spread its spindly, probing tentacles from license to license with Minecraft: Story Mode, a project that has left several wondering one simple question: how? Thus far, every property borrowed has intuitively fit the adventure game mold, all noted for their depth of story, multi-dimensional characters, or, at the very least, sense of humor. Minecraft, on the other hand, has no story. Literally. Has Telltale deftly used its crafting table to complete its standard recipe, or have they opened up the door to an unwanted realm?
When I began writing my Borderlands reviews, I had to remember that not every title Telltale puts out is going to grapple with ethical dilemmas and lean toward the macabre. The way one approaches Minecraft: Story Mode will impact how much they enjoy it, certainly, but at some point, quality of writing and implementation of adventure game mechanics are going to determine some degree of worth. I bore this in mind as I booted up Episode 1, ready for a light romp through Minecraft’s menagerie of pigs, chickens, zombies, and, of course, creepers.
Minecraft: Story Mode is intended for children. Or at least those who are intimately familiar with their inner youth. This isn’t just because Minecraft is the setting, as several mortgage-bound adults enjoy the computerized Lego world Notch founded. The writing, at times, is so incredibly juvenile, I became self-conscious listening to two characters argue over being called stupid — and I was sitting alone in my apartment. This happened more than once, by the way.
Dialogue isn’t the only reason for this criticism, though. The plot and its direction are incredibly simplistic and predictable. When I quickly realized what I had signed up for with the upcoming episodes, I groaned. My only hope is that the delivery matures a bit as the formulaic tale unfolds. Again, this isn’t necessarily because the story is bad — I just don’t think I’m the demographic for this title. Objectively, a child or adolescent will likely approach Minecraft: Story Mode with wide-eyed wonder and excitement as Telltale makes forced references to all of the world’s critters. Jokes are quickly made using what the world of Minecraft has to offer, including animals, the mechanics of the world, and visual design.
To offer a brief synopsis, Story Mode follows Jesse, a boy who enters a crafting competition with two friends. The trio prattle on about how they’re losers, both in a competitive and social sense. They run into a rival group who always shows them up at contests, and barbs are exchanged. Most of the characters are one-dimensional, but a couple have some depth — so far.
From a gameplay perspective, if you’ve played any modern Telltale title, you know what to expect here. Replete with timed dialogue choices, outcomes based on player decisions, quick time events, and fetch quests, the Telltale brand couldn’t be clearer. As is the trend lately, quick time events are difficult to fail, and many seem included for the sake of referencing Minecraft’s gameplay, such as repeatedly thwacking a zombie with a wooden sword. Fortunately, Telltale keeps the pace amped up throughout the latter three-fourths of the game.
“Difficult” dialogue choices appear once again, but the tension is tepid at best. Of course, this isn’t entirely surprising given the source material, but Telltale fans might not appreciate what’s offered here unless they’re die-hard Minecraft fans, as well. Jesse (the player) is clearly the leader, and thus, has to play diplomat amongst his childish friends. Be prepared for inane exchanges in simple dialogue, as well.
In terms of visuals, Telltale’s new title is basically Minecraft with excellent animation. I encountered no hiccups and everything looked wonderful, assuming Minecraft is your thing. The voice actors read their roles well, but they have a hint of Saturday morning cartoon in their tone, though this fits what Telltale seems to be shooting for. In typical Telltale fashion, the music takes a backseat to the more immediate experience, aside from the light menu music upon booting up the game. I experienced some unresponsiveness with the controls, but not during urgent, time-based interactions in the game, so only a little frustration was incurred.
Minecraft: Story Mode is a pre-pubescent journey through the cube-covered universe Notch created in 2009. Fans of Minecraft might enjoy it on the surface for its in-your-face references, which is fine, because not much exists beneath the surface. If you’re thinking about purchasing Telltale’s newest title, do so with these considerations in mind. Similarly, if you buy it, approach it knowing what to expect and be prepared for light, childish adventure.