Originally announced back May 2019, Minecraft Earth caught the attention of gamers with its slick melding of the Minecraft formula that we have all come to love, then hate and now love again, as well as the real-world gameplay of titles such as Pokemon Go and Ingress.
Fast forward to Minecraft Earth’s beta launch in September 2019, where I’m seeing the world around me transformed into a Minecraft world complete with blocky roads and paths. I rotate the camera and a sheep falls into existence. I tap it. Now I have wool. The animations are slick and clean. Watching the sheep literally fall from the sky and land with its legs spread out before righting itself for the first time was great.
Unfortunately, the other animal denizens of Minecraft didn’t get the same treatment. Cows and chickens just pop into the world as you toddle along. But that’s okay. It’s just one or two minor nitpicks so far.
Then my first tappable mineral deposit spawns. A tower of dirt and grass. I tap it. Once again, the animations are smooth, the dirt and grass are added to my inventory with the added bonus of a rare flower. Great! Over the course of the next couple of days, for little bits at a time when I was walking my dog, I would open Minecraft Earth and tap some tappables. Trees, stone, chests with redstone and glass, animals. You name it. I tapped it.
Eventually, I had enough materials to build a small shack in Minecraft Earth’s main mode. The Build Mode. Players are given Build Plates that they can place down in the real world in two separate ways: one is tabletop mode for small-scale building and general looking around; the other mode is Play mode, which plops your creation down at fullscale in the real world, letting you interact with everything as if it were really there in the world, using your phone or tablet as a kind of viewfinder in a camera.
This mode has great potential to be really fun. Especially when some buildplates are hiding dungeons under their blocky surfaces. However, at the time of writing, there are a couple of little things that stop this mode taking up a lot more of my time than it already has.
The placing of buildplates in either mode is very finicky. On more than one occasion, I would find my buildplate slipping and sliding all over the surface I had placed it on, making it impossible to do anything. Then in Play mode, getting my buildplate to be flush with the ground proved to be a Herculean task. I think I managed to get it the way I wanted it once.
Another issue I found is that in either of the build modes my phone would get very, very hot. Not a deal-breaker by any means, but it is something to watch out for when the full release rolls around.
All in all, I have had a pretty great time so far in Minecraft Earth, and the novelty hasn’t quite worn off yet. I don’t think it will be a Pokémon Go killer or even challenger. I think they are different enough to coexist. I even played both at the same time more often than not, using Pokémon Go’s Adventure Sync to track my steps while I tapped some goodies in Minecraft.
There are things I haven’t mentioned so far but I will save those for the full review when Minecraft Earth is fully released, the full release date is, as of yet, unknown.