Telltale Games, point-and-click developers extraordinaire, have made a fearsome reputation of late in re-appropriating the IPs of other people and manipulating them into means by which they can create their own celebrated narrative-rich games.
Minecraft: Story Mode, Episode 1 (based on Mojang’s behemoth sandbox game) is the latest in this trend, following on from the similarly episodic Tales of the Borderlands, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead. In comparison to these games, it falls flat. This is partly due to the young age of the intended audience, as well as the lack of pre-existing lore and narrative with which to flesh out the game itself. For young players, as well as keen fans of the previous Telltale games, this will not be a problem. Those not falling into this category might be wise to pass for now, especially until the remaining four episodes (slated to be released at some point in the next year) have seen the light of day.
Looking at Minecraft: Story Mode in light of Telltale’s previous creations, one thing presents itself immediately. Earlier games taking advantage of re-cycled IPs entered into worlds rich with narrative, characters, and the possibility for creative expansion. Minecraft (a game where players must craft items and shelter to protect themselves from monsters which appear at night) does not have this heritage of complexity, and Telltale has had to (slightly awkwardly) shoehorn in a story that feels about as home in Minecraft’s universe as it would in any other. While the player is tasked with crafting, it is not a central element, and would not have been out of place in an alternative game that did not have the word ‘Minecraft’ on the box.
The story does take advantage of some of the game world’s assets, but not to a staggering degree. I won’t go into the specifics of the story, as to do so would compromise a sizeable reason for the playing of a Telltale game, but it has the tone and theme of a children’s television show: ‘Friendship is important,’ ‘Always look out for your friends,’ ‘Give everyone a fair chance and you’ll see that underneath we are all good people, trust me.’ Personally, I find this kind of stuff galling, but others’ reactions might be less acidic. While Minecraft does have a hardcore player base – some of whom have recently rebuilt Tolkien’s Shire – many of its players are children, and Telltale has clearly created something designed for the younger fan. The game is undeniably written for a young audience, and no child has ever been undone by a gentle nudge to be nice to other people.
The plot itself is fairly decent. It takes a little bit of time to get off the ground, but being the first episode, this is forgivable. Once it did get going, I found myself getting quite involved. It is not overflowing with imagination (which is disappointing – a total lack of narrative spine in the IP’s body effectively gave Telltale carte blanche to flex itself) but it is nonetheless engaging. In keeping with my distaste for game’s thematic direction, I found many of the characters (who repeatedly expound these ideals) irritating. The voice acting is at best inoffensively utilitarian. It isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off, but it is devoid of any screaming howlers. That being said, my favourite character was, without doubt, the protagonist’s silent pet pig. The little porker’s raised eyebrows are the most cynical thing in the entire game, and were no doubt placed to add a little tonic to what would have otherwise been overly strong socially improving medicine.
Minecraft: Story Mode’s gameplay will be familiar to any who has any experience with the genre. The player is presented with a problem that must be solved in order to progress to the next chunk of narrative – a cut-scene in which players have myriad dialogue decisions and occasional quick time events which affect the outcome of the plot. The puzzles themselves are all pretty simple. There are clear visual cues in the form of white squares when the mouse moves towards anything, and the game doesn’t provide many red herrings. In fact, the game can almost be said to play itself in this regard.
The only challenge The Order of the Stone does present is in quick time events and dialogue options. Quick time events offer a very short window in which to react, and I found myself failing to succeed in about half – though these do not appear to affect the outcome of the game in any way. In dialogue, the player must choose between one of four (occasionally two) options, and the time allotted in which to do so is not generous. Considering the apparent target for these games (young children), this seems unfair. I struggled to read them all, process them, and then make my decisions within the time allowed. For decisions that are crucial the game grants more time, and only offers two choices; these moments are also telegraphed heavily in advance, reducing the severity of my complaint. Most of the dialogue options are benign regarding their narrative effect, and if the player does not select an option then the default is silence. Proverbially golden, it offers no negative ramifications.
Combat is both infrequent and unchallenging. It is an on-rails melee system and spamming the attack button will see off any enemies quickly. In the (highly, highly) unlikely event of death, the game’s forgiving checkpoints will keep the player from having to retrace too many steps.
Graphically, the only other gripe is that the autosave image, a box that shows up on the right hand side of the screen, was present for the entire play-through. Try as I might I found no way to remove it. Mildly irritating, but ultimately ignorable, it is my only visual complaint. The game looks exactly like Minecraft, and is thus successfully faithful to the source material.
Minecraft: Story Mode, Episode 1 is not Telltale’s greatest achievement in the world of episodic point-and-click graphic adventure video games, but it is a fun and entertaining two hours. Ostensibly written for children, it presents clear and honourable themes that are laudable despite being saccharine. While certain elements of gameplay are challenging due to the lack of time allowed in which to act, it is an otherwise a relaxed romp that pleases even if it doesn’t astonish.
Entertaining but Unremarkable
An entertaining, if somewhat lacklustre, adventure through Telltale's reimagining of Minecraft's universe