Video Games Review: Minecraft: Story Mode (Xbox One, 2015)

Minecraft: Story Mode feels like a bit of a narrative passing of the torch in a lot of respects. Its first two episodes are filled with clever references that kids who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s will pounce on but the bulk of its story is aimed squarely at the next generation of players.

The choice of Minecraft, Mojang’s titanic sandbox build-em-up/accidental masterpiece, by Telltale Games as the universe in which to tell their next grand and sweeping adventure story is an interesting one to say the least. Minecraft itself is without a narrative arc of any sort, being instead about the stories you come up with as you construct the object of your heart’s desire, be it a castle, a farm or even a working RAM chip. It’s clear then that Telltale knew they needed a story worth telling and have worked hard to give us one. Even for those who are largely unfamiliar with Minecraft, Story Mode leverages the classic Hero’s Journey trope to very amusing effect and makes it hard not to become immediately invested.

A much more PG-rated game than most of what Telltale has released in the last few years (with The Walking Dead: Season 2, Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones all being aimed squarely at adults), Story Mode wears its influences adoringly on its sleeve. It’s equal parts The Goonies, Stand By Me and The Breakfast Club. It’s a clever method for making Minecraft more accessible to non-fans and avoiding the trap of giving kids something that is insultingly watered down.

You have a group of characters led by your avatar Jesse. Jesse can be male (voiced by Patton Oswalt) or female (voiced by Catherine Taber) depending on your own personal choice. Jesse is aided by his friends Axel (Brian Posehn), Olivia (Martha Plimpton), Petra (The Last of Us’ Ashley Johnson) and your pet pig Reuben (Dee Bradley Baker), and together are a tight-knit team of builders who want nothing more than to go to their local Minecraft convention EnderCon and roll the reigning champions.

A series of unfortunate events during EnderCon sees the gang foil a plot involving the sinister Ivor (played by the great Paul Reubens with moustache-twirling glee), inadvertently setting a Wither loose upon the world, a hideous monstrosity that will devour the universe. Jesse and friends rush to gather a fabled group of heroes called The Order of the Stone to stop the monster, travelling far and wide to gather them together.

While most of the plot beats can be seen coming from a few hundred kilometres away (this is still a Hero’s Journey story after all), the tropes are less egregious due to the variety of ways the plot is moved forward. You’re given the time to actually get to know your compatriots, even in the first episode, and before long you find yourself really giving a damn about their well-being and whether they can all work together.

I’ve always played my Telltale games on the PC and have rarely had the kind of trouble with their quicktime and combat controls my peers have, but I reviewed Minecraft: Story Mode on the Xbox One and I suddenly understand their frustration. There are a few parts that involve highly-timed button presses for combat and I rarely got it right, electing to spam the attack button instead. Often, when a quicktime event would appear that required me to aim at a thing, I would miss it due to an inability to really see my cursor (which takes the form of the simple one-pixel Minecraft white dot).

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This was really my only pet peeve in an otherwise rather polished experience. One element that really stuck out as quite creative for me was the use of the well-known Minecraft crafting system. To create objects you must refer to recipes and put them together as you would in the original game. It’s a little more simplified than what some veteran Miney fans are accustomed to, sure, but it feels rewarding and was a very smart move.

There’s even moments where the narrative trappings drop away and it’s quite easy to forget that you aren’t actually playing Minecraft at all. Characters are more fluid and emotive than your typical Miney avatars, which lets Telltale pull liberally from the universe while still being able to inject personality into their characters, allowing you to better connect with their plight.

Minecraft: Story Mode doesn’t stray far from what Telltale are known for doing. It features a solid story, expressive and connective characters, a stellar voice cast and quicktime events that are surprisingly easy to bungle. I have to admit that going in, I was a little wary of how Telltale, despite their track record, could ever find an interesting story to tell in this universe that would appeal to fans and newbies alike but I shouldn’t have doubted them for a moment. This is great stuff – smart, at ease with itself and ready to take you on a ride. Play it with your kids for even greater results.

Review Score: 8.0 out of 10
Highlights: Great story; Great cast
Lowlights: Quicktime events a bit wobbly on console
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Released: October 13, 2015
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Mobile

Reviewed on Xbox One

David Smith

Games and technology editor, Dungeons and Dragons fanboy and your new best friend. You can reach me at david.smith@theaureview.com with news tips, pitches, press releases, invites, review content and more.