Review: Minecraft: Story Mode: Episode 1 – Building Character
If there’s one thing that the mega-popular Minecraft has been known for, it’s the building-focused title’s nearly limitless amounts of creativity and its ability to let the imaginations of its players run wild.
That’s pretty much a fact since the original title’s release nearly four years ago, and since then Minecraft has come to a variety of consoles and platforms, while dominating the imaginations of younger players in particular.
However, one thing it’s not quite as known for is telling compelling tales. While the original game has featured plenty of iconic characters of its own like Creepers and Endermen, Telltale Games is taking a crack at crafting their own take on the title with a spin-off of sorts, called Minecraft: Story Mode.
On its own merits, it may be hard to think of what a more story-focused take on Minecraft would accomplish or provide, as Telltale Games’ penchant for crafting engaging yet linear experiences might make it seem like Minecraft is not quite suitable for the same league of game as their previous titles like The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, or Tales from the Borderlands.
Even if it doesn’t necessarily seem like the type of property that might lend itself to a rich story and interesting characters, the wide blueprint that the game provides clearly gave Telltale plenty to work with, with Story Mode being another worthwhile, fun, and charming addition to their narrative-based games roster.
Taking place in the context of the actual game, Minecraft: Story Mode follows a “newbie” player by the name of Jesse just starting his/her own trek in learning how to build and craft, but still burning with a passion for the game’s blocky world.
In a departure from Telltale Games’ previous games, Story Mode is a first with several selectable playable characters that the player can choose for Jesse depending on gender and race, with the male protagonists voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt, while female characters are voiced by actress Catherine Taber.
After selecting their own version of Jesse, the player then embarks with the colorful cast of characters in the world of Story Mode on a quest to find “The Order of the Stone,” a group of four adventuring knights that will be crucial in helping the game’s world against an imminent threat that could threaten to destroy it.
Following a devastating monster attack at the annual “EnderCon” event in the game world, it then comes up to Jesse and company to take on these threats in whatever ways they can build and craft a solution.
Story Mode introduces a slew of characters to help along the way who each give their own unique flavor and color to the game, from the daring and adventurous Petra (voiced by The Last of Us’ Ashley Johnson) to the imposing and villainous Ivor (Paul Reubens of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse).
While many of Telltale Games’ usual suspects for its voice cast are present like Johnson and The Walking Dead‘s Dave Fennoy, the new additions prove to be one of the highlights of Telltale’s latest episodic series.
In particular we have some notable names like Oswalt (who I enjoyed in my playthrough as a male Jesse), comedian Brian Posehn, and others such as Corey Feldman and John Hodgman that all lend humorous and fun energy to their performances.
The set-up for Story Mode‘s well… story may not quite compare to the same level of the more emotionally-engaging Tales series like The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us, but Telltale Games still provides plenty of charm and great humor, and especially in the context of the story being meant for a more family-friendly audience.
That doesn’t mean it’s is by any means a “kids game,” as there are still plenty of moments of surprising depth and darkness to the otherwise fun-filled times.
Story Mode unfolds as an action-adventure game where players can interact with objects and environments to uncover secrets, and the main focus of the episodes being the player’s role in helping to decide what happens next in the story and how to proceed.
Like Telltale Games’ other titles, multiple paths are available and choices are waiting for you to decide: while the decisions you make won’t quite be on the same scale as that of The Walking Dead in choosing which characters live or die, Story Mode still offers plenty of options of how you can proceed, with the Minecraft license in particular offering some fun new tweaks on the traditional “Telltale formula.”
During several moments of the first episode, “The Order of the Stone,” players are able to craft items in virtually the same way as Minecraft‘s grid-based system.
Echoing this mechanic from the original game, players can use their obtained materials and items from previous points in the episode to solve puzzles that may require a solution or item, offering some flexibility in how they can be accomplished.
In one specific instance, I had to hit a switch to shut-off a potential trap, with my Jesse needing to decide between constructing either a fishing rod or a bow-and-arrow set to complete the task.
While ultimately I went with the bow-and-arrow, the implementation of the crafting system is an intriguing and clever twist on the more traditional aspects of choice in Telltale’s games that definitely made me curious on how going with the other route might have led.
The actual crafting segments, though, are used only a handful of times though during Story Mode‘s first episode, contrasted with several other moments involving building and crafting that are relegated to short quicktime events or button presses in others.
It may feel a little off to more seasoned players with the creative aspects of the game playing more of a background role, though the way they are used (and hopefully will be used in future episodes) definitely adds a unique flavor to Story Mode compared to the more linear, focused experiences of Telltale’s other titles.
While the first episode gets off to a little bit of a slow start, “The Order of the Stone” starts off as a great debut as well as for putting the pieces into place for the next four installments.
Even with some hesitation on whether Minecraft could be material for a fun and compelling story, in many ways Story Mode proves to be a great outlet for Telltale’s particular brand of storytelling (perhaps even surpassing some of the studio’s more recent efforts like Game of Thrones).
As a fun, charming, and more focused take on the world and experience of Minecraft, Story Mode brings the world to life with its colorful and vibrant style and energized character models and animations.
Though it’s not quite the same variety of laugh-out-loud experiences that Telltale has provided lately with Tales of the Borderlands, this title still offers a fun and engaging experience with more of a family focus. Don’t let that fool you though: as Telltale Games cited creative influences like The Goonies and Ghostbusters in its creation.
Minecraft: Story Mode shows there are far more stories to tell in the Minecraft world than you might expect from its pixelated blocks and bits.