On a cold winter’s night, back in 2010, 12 of my hard earned Australian dollars were thrown willingly towards Minecraft’s Alpha version. Over the course of the next 7 years, I’d spend near 200 hours total in one of the most influential video games of the past decade. I’ve experienced the very best of Minecraft across a slew of platforms, namely, the PC, in its birthplace, and later, the Playstation Vita and Xbox 360. It’s now May 2017, and the blocky barrage, created first by Notch (and the later formation of Mojang) and now reinvigorated by 4J Studios, has arrived on the Nintendo Switch. In its latest carefully crafted form, Minecraft: Switch Edition holds its own and, furthermore, might just be the definitive way to experience the imperfect perfection that is the world of Minecraft.
If you are reading this as your initiation into Mojang’s most decorated title to date, Minecraft is an open sandbox style offering that, to the untrained eye, appears as a quasi-Lego inspired world. While the gameplay experience might appear to stand in parallel with its visuals, Minecraft is much more than an abomination of blocks. Minecraft can be experienced, enjoyed and played in any order, method, style – the world is your oyster. While I prefer to play Minecraft on my own terms with its single-player offering, others are strongly drawn to the community-driven Multiplayer game modes with thousands of custom assets – texture packs, skins and game modes to name just a few. While single-player consists mainly of Survival mode – dropping into a world filled with deadly foes with only your bare hands as your saviour, Creative mode offers a peaceful and relaxed experience, trading enemies for pure building creativity on a pixel-pastel landscape. With no real end-game, perse (unless you dare visit the hidden evils of the Nether realm), replay value is one of many attractive characteristics of this digital crafter.
Now, through the portable joy of the Nintendo Switch, Minecraft: Switch Edition presents a whole new premise and ‘way-to-play’ that just feels…. natural. During my playthrough, I sampled a slew of play styles to truly put 4J Studio’s new-old hit through its paces. In my experience, Portable mode is smooth and precise, with good draw distance and with no real frame stutters or hiccups, something that has become a little too apparent in recent Switch titles. Docked mode follows a similar sort, despite an absent step-up to a 1080p resolution which would have been a nice addition, but is missing here. It is, however, to little disruption, given the little graphical prowess in which Minecraft presents to its hardware. The attraction, here, is that Minecraft, and its full experience, have been pressed and packed onto the Nintendo Switch – a hybrid console with the ability to be played on the go or docked into your home TV for a home console form factor. Minecraft has never transitioned so well – my brain was often trying to persuade me that I was playing Minecraft: Pocket Edition – docking my Nintendo Switch console brought forward the reality that I could pick up fighting off the horde of creepers right where I left off in Portable mode.
While Minecraft: Switch Edition is sorely missing the hub of community-created worlds, texture packs and other contributions, it is, however, supplemented with Nintendo-inspired custom assets. Super Mario Mash-up makes its appearance once more after debuting on the Wii U, as well as Christmas and holiday themed texture packs and assets that are a welcome addition. What we’re seeing here, is the console experience we’ve seen before – only this time, hardware matches software. The game you can play your way – anytime, anywhere and in any style you please. It’s a premise that seemingly justifies the slight price hike listed on the Nintendo eShop (a physical release is on the way but with no concrete release date).
Minecraft: Switch Edition offers a competent, fun and tailored Multiplayer experience, although it is seemingly a little bare in comparison to its platform of origin. Two main game modes are present here; each with their own flavour and personality. While they’re seen mostly as mini games, both modes offer laugh-out-loud fun and a solid Multiplayer experience. Battle Mode offers a ‘Hunger Games’ scenario, whereby a match starts with a number of item chests in the center of the arena in an all-out blocky brawl. This is a Deathmatch mode, in its simplest form. Tumble mode, a new mode exclusive to each console version, presents a fresh new take on Multiplayer sandbox game modes. In Tumble, you are armed only with a shovel. It is your simple duty to dig away the floor from beneath your opponents, sending them tumbling below into the pixel abyss. While this flavour of Minecraft is, for the most part, what you’ll find on other consoles, Tumble and its addictive gameplay drew me in, more so than almost any custom game I’d played years before on the PC. Its competitive, while not taking itself seriously, and violently cruel, without ever issuing you a weapon to bludgeon your opponents with.
Graphics and Sound
Minecraft, visually, presents vivacious colour and smooth textures like many iterations before it. Buttery smooth framerates and impressive draw distance are a highlight here – all available in a portable form factor this time around. Sound and music courses in Minecraft: Switch edition are here too, with some pleasant, careful tendencies to Nintendo and its details. Spending quite a number of hours in the Super Mario mash-up pack belted nostalgic tunes from many of the Super Mario games of yesteryear, including Super Mario 64, Super Mario World and the original Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Headphones were called upon for most of my playthrough for this very reason – rose-tinted glasses aside, your mileage may vary, but the compositions in Minecraft: Switch Edition shone through where they previously hadn’t. With a coupling of clean visuals and more than competent sound compositions, Minecraft: Switch Edition is as well-rounded as ever.
Minecraft: Switch Edition presents possibly the most inviting recipe for finally plunging into the world of Minecraft and creative, open-world, sandbox gameplay. While the ‘Switch surcharge’ appears once again here, with a slight price hike for the Nintendo-flavoured offering, Minecraft lends itself incredibly well to ‘pick-up-and-play’ gameplay, this time, with absolutely no compromises. Attention all prospective players (veterans, you too) – Minecraft: Switch Edition is, for all intents and purposes, the definitive way to experience one of the greatest examples of “gameplay over graphics” in any game we’ve seen this decade.