Genre: Point-And-Click Adventure
Release date: October 13, 2015
Telltale Games has become the master of adaption. Despite its recent stumble with HBO’s Game of Thrones, it has displayed a great level of skill for respectfully adapting a pre-existing world into one that jives with its popularized episodic format. But what happens when the world its adapting doesn’t have an established canon? In the case of Minecraft: Story Mode, Telltale has created a strong foundation grounded in the source material, but a story that ultimately feels conventional in comparison with the more complex games in the Telltale library.
I haven’t put down Minecraft (2009) since I started playing years ago, so it was with excitement and trepidation that I approached Telltale’s take on that universe. Unlike other Telltale games where I had an idea what kind of story I could expect, Minecraft: Story Mode was building a world from scratch, expanding on the same creative principles that are loved from this franchise.
The story follows Jesse and his gang of misfits (including Reuben the pig) as they get wrapped up in an epic tale. At EnderCon (a clever play on the real world MineCon), a monstrous creation called a Wither is created and begins to wreak havoc on the town. Jesse meets his idol, Gabriel, one of the members of The Order of the Stone, and is then tasked with saving the world.
If this doesn’t sound particularly unique, that’s because it isn’t. This doesn’t mean the game isn’t capable of surprises. In Minecraft (2009), Withers don’t grow into monstrous vacuums capable of leveling cities. They’re dangerous, sure, but manageable. When Story Mode delivered a Wither, I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong. In this way I’m excited to see how Telltale can subvert the expectations of an audience that is well aware of the rules, so to speak.
It’s to be expected that Minecraft: Story Mode is aimed at a younger audience than The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. You’ll have to decide whether to eat a cookie or give it to a potential friend, but you’ll also have to decide who to save when the Wither attacks. And the characters openly discuss death. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not a great philosophical game, but it’s not as juvenile as it may appear to those unfamiliar with Minecraft. And therein lies its strength; unlike previous games by Telltale, Story Mode is a game for young and mature gamers alike.
The joy of the story comes from the unique quirks that could only be present in a Minecraft world. You need to make a slime block, so you have to collect nine blobs first; there are machines that create chickens for seemingly no reason; in-game characters are amazed at the creation of a beacon, which is a difficult task in Minecraft (2009). The world, though much more active and populous than my lone ventures through the Minecraft wilderness, abides by the same rules that so many players have firmly engrained into their memories.
Jesse and his friends break blocks, craft tools, and debate whether or not to dig a hovel or build a treehouse to survive the night. Moments like this will truly resonate with Minecraft players, but not so much with others. When veteran miner Petra explained why she had a treasure chest near the entrance to the Nether, I laughed, but others may not catch the humor. But this semi-inclusive nature is par for the course with Telltale.
The game does its best to show off the act of crafting while not slowing the pace of the story. Telltale’s excellent solution is to show crafting or gathering in hilarious montages or in a state of fast-forward. The pacing throughout the story seemingly lands in the sweet spot between rushing and dragging, something that Telltale has occasionally struggled with in the past.
Personally, I’m very curious about which parts of the game they will tackle from here on out. If they’ve already shown off a Wither and the Nether along with the basics of the universe, where do they go next? I have a feeling we won’t be disappointed by the answer.
Telltale nails the world of Minecraft, but it’s a little weird to see these characters walking and talking. Their blocky mouths take some getting used to, but top-notch voice acting eases the transition. I played through the episode twice, once as female and once as male, and I can say that Catherine Taber and Patton Oswalt both establish lovable lead characters. Jesse becomes the character that all Minecrafters have been at one point: ambitious, curious, and cautious. Jesse is willing to be the hero and is prepared to put in the time to become such. And if Minecraft has taught me anything, it’s that patience and perseverance are the qualities needed to (sometimes literally) move mountains.
Beyond the protagonist, the cast is chock-full of recognizable veterans. Brian Posehn, Ashley Johnson, Scott Porter, Dave Fennoy, Billy West, and Paul Reubens each do their part in bringing the characters to life. The cast represents Minecraftian simplicity, but never steps over the line into cliché. At this point in the story, there were no characters that felt like a waste of screen time. I felt guilty each time I had to choose one character over another, something that I didn’t struggle with even remotely in Telltale’s Game of Thrones.
The soundtrack itself leaves a little to be desired. Minecraft (2009) had one of the greatest video game soundtracks of the past decade. It perfectly encapsulated the aspects of wonder and fear, the overwhelming sense of peace and loneliness that one can feel lost in the wilderness. The original soundtrack has clearly inspired Story Mode, but it feels more like a cheap imitation than an homage.
Minecraft: Story Mode sets the stage for a great series. The story disappoints by sticking closely to convention, but Telltale has also been faced with establishing a universe in two hours (something they’ve been able to avoid by adapting story-heavy IPs in the past). For Telltale fans, Story Mode is more of the same winning formula; for Minecraft fans it’s an enjoyable interpretation that has the potential for greatness. With a likeable cast of characters and effective subversions of Minecraft’s established rules, Minecraft: Story Mode is off to a respectful and worthwhile start.
+ Mining and crafting experience
+ Extremely effective pacing
+ Great characters and great voices
- Conventional story
- “Meh” soundtrack