In many respects Minecraft is a Swiss-army toolset of a game, designed with mathematical precision to facilitate a stream of 'what-if' questions from its players: what happens if I create a lava fountain? What if it's possible to build a floating building in the sky? What will it look like if try and carve my face into that cliff?
It certainly helps that Minecraft's world exists in a land of its own barmy logic, too. Some examples include, but are by no means limited to, how a single bucket (made out of three iron ingots, each constructed by putting coal or charcoal with iron ore into a furnace, itself constructed out of eight blocks of cobblestone) of water can become a never-ending stream, how knocking a bed into pieces means you can pick it up and use it again later, or just how zombies and other monsters come out at night.
Ah yes, the monsters. When the sun goes down, or if you decide to dig underground for the game's most precious materials, you'll be met with a crude army of spiders, skeletons, zombies and those oh-so-ubiquitous creepers. They're single-mindedly out for your pixelated head, but death in Minecraft is not the end - you'll respawn, but without any of your items. In a game almost entirely about collecting items, however, this can be especially devastating. It's a part-baked attempt to turn an aimless voyage of exploration into something more traditionally game-like, but what's particularly impressive is just how effectively it works.
While the main PC version has a few more established goals and objectives, such as enchantments and levelling, this Xbox 360 fork is currently without these features. 4J Studios' port isn't quite up-to-date in other areas, too; much of the game is still running off the beta version, so sleeping in a bed, for instance, isn't quite the same, and the Xbox's modest technical capabilities ensures the overall map size is a fraction of the PC's.
There are some other changes, too. Crafting in the PC version is accomplished by manually shaping items into existence via a 3x3 window, whereas the console equivalent is just to let players choose their desired trinkets from a series of lists and ingredients. Losing this knockabout sense of actually creating your items is a bit of a shame, but its absence is understandable considering its inherent fiddliness.
In multiplayer the PC's dedicated servers take a backseat to four-player P2P matchmaking and split-screen. While neither can compete with the suite of tools and options available to PC server owners, developer 4J has produced a competent use of the Xbox Live framework, with players persisting in a 'host' world that never dies but, sadly, only lives when its owner is playing.
It might be big, complicated and unrestricted, but Minecraft is an example of the possibilities of gamers rather than their games, and its towering success has been accomplished without alienation or elitism.
Virgin Media verdict:
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