In the quickest episode update to date for Telltale, Episode 2 opens in medias res as Jesse and his companion venture forth to find one of the four legendary companions of olde. What follows are shallow snippets of convenient outcomes to adverse circumstances, deus ex machina, milked slow-mo camera jumps, headache-inducing arguments, and simple references to Notch’s original vision. At least the excursion only lasts for about forty-five minutes.
As referenced earlier, the tale continues as the player left off. Here, player decision at the end of Episode 1 clearly impacted the experience of Episode 2. This is even clearer in that players cannot access the other option that was presented, which I’m thankful about, because that means less childish prattling that I don’t have to deal with. After the brief (though somewhat creative) mission, the group continues on in pursuit of filler until something gripping might happen.
At one point, the writers seem to dip a toe into a child-friendly mature theme of loss, but this turns out to be born out of concern for self-preservation — which is fine, though this feels like a missed opportunity. The relationships between all of the characters seem odd in that exchanges build up to a dramatic conclusion (with respect to the audience), only to result in forced apologies, compromises, and resolutions. For those who’ve given up on the plot, any hope for mature character development through sound writing might as well go up with a block of TNT.
Gameplay doesn’t fare much better, either. Each chase (and there are a lot of them) requires a brief press of the arrow, each “battle” feels just as simple and bears little resemblance to actual Minecraft battles, and each roaming section to fill time uses simple references to Minecraft as if to grab the player by the shoulder and say, “See! You’re totally playing in a Minecraft world!” The substance of each reference serves as a garnish to the central plot, which could exist in any world. Nothing within Minecraft: Story Mode requires that the story reside in this world, which is what makes this series feel like a cheap ploy to appeal to children and fans.
The presentation is still uniquely Minecraft, which animates nicely in terms of technical qualities, but stumbles with regard to lip sync. I may not have noticed this in Episode 1, but the characters’ mouths rarely sync up with the spoken dialogue, oftentimes resulting in delayed or silently moving mouths. Clicking on objects in the environment and selecting appropriate commands is easy, assuming players don’t want to change objects, which is a chore. The game simply refuses to take focus off of the current object unless the cursor moves extremely far away. This is the sort of design oversight that boggles my mind with Telltale. Clearly, they use the same sort of engine for each title, so why are unique control difficulties coming up in each series? At least the voice acting remains competent and capable, though campy at times.
Episode 2 is a short, disappointing excursion into what’s shaping up to be an arduous five-episode series. I can’t decide if Episode 2 is worse than Episode 1, or if the formula is wearing on me already. While I recognize that Minecraft: Story Mode is made for children, most well-designed movies or books have some adult appeal, so why shouldn’t an adventure-based video game?