Writing a Minecraft review in 2017 feels a bit like an exercise in fertility. What the hell am I going to write about that hasn’t been covered elsewhere a million times before? What is there to talk about in a game this exhaustively covered? The answer to these questions is quite obviously “not a damned thing,” so if you’re looking for an especially fresh angle, you won’t find it here. You know what Minecraft is. You know what it’s about. If you’re a parent, you probably own it on more than one platform already. Instead, I’m going to talk about why I think the Nintendo Switch version of Minecraft, flaws and all, is one of the best versions of the game to date.
“But why in Notch’s name would I ever want to purchase Minecraft again?” I hear you wail. Because despite its many iterations across just about every major platform in the world, there is no version of Minecraft that is quite as versatile as the one for the Nintendo Switch. Minecraft‘s creative game loop is a perfect match for the Switch’s grab-and-go nature. At any moment, you can be playing Minecraft on your TV from the comfort of your couch, realise you have to leave, grab your Switch out of its dock and carry on whenever the opportunity next arises. This is, obviously, not the first portable edition of Minecraft ever made — there’s the version for iOS and Android, as well as the version for PlayStation Vita and, to a lesser extent, the version for the Nintendo Wii U. It’s even on Amazon’s Fire OS for god’s sake. And if you own a tablet PC, you can even take the full blooded Windows or Mac version with you. None of these editions, however, make portability as easy and rewarding as the Switch version does.
The game’s controls are about as close to a perfect representation of using a mouse and keyboard as one could hope for on a console, and are especially good when playing in the handheld mode. The game runs at a silky 60 frames per second while in TV mode and doesn’t skip a beat when you jump it off the dock. This ability to have the same experience regardless of the mode you’re playing in is one of the Switch version’s neatest tricks.
There are a number of concessions that had to be made in order for Minecraft to run smoothly on the Nintendo Switch and this may be where the wheels come off for those who value the unfettered customisation of the PC original. While some community content remains (including a Nintendo-fied version of the Minecraft world and characters that is absolutely worth a look), there is no access to the PC version’s incredibly deep mod scene. Gone too is access to Minecraft Realms. For reasons tied to maintaining a steady framerate in handheld mode, the size of the worlds one can create only goes up to Medium (or 3072 x 3072). Multiplayer is available online and splitscreen but your partners (up for four players in splitscreen) will need a pair of Joy-Cons of their own because the game doesn’t support single Joy-Con play. There’s also no in-game audio voice chat when playing online, a feature taken for granted by the game’s PC-based community and a grievous oversight for the console as a whole that Nintendo still needs to sort out.
In every other regard, this is a port that excels. The frame rate is a rock-solid 60fps, the controls leave any other portable version of Minecraft for dead and you have everything you need to bring even your wildest visions to life. It feels at home on the Switch in a way it doesn’t on other platforms like smartphones, the Switch’s inherent adaptability completely in sync with that of the game. Beyond the PC original, and even considering all the things that were jettisoned to make it work, this is possibly the best version of Minecraft available.
Score: 8.5 out of 10
Highlights: Minecraft anywhere; Rock-solid performance; Great controls
Lowlights: Numerous bells and whistles missing from other editions
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.