Minecraft is a legitimate phenomenon. Years after release, Minecraft still remains on the top 10 of the North American NPD Group charts. The game has made its creator quite rich and was the impetus for Microsoft shelling out $2.5 billion to buy Mojang. People on YouTube have carved out solid careers making videos just for Minecraft.
Fans of the game have been crafting their own narratives for quite a while now. If you go on YouTube or into any bookstore, you'll find tons of ongoing stories. Minecraft: Story Mode is the first official story sanctioned by Minecraft developer Mojang. Telltale Games has been given the chance to build the Minecraft universe, making a whole new canon for fans. With Episode 1: The Order of the Stone, the developer begins to take its first steps.
You play Jesse, a Minecraftian (what are they called?) who wants to win a local building competition with his friends. Top prize in the competition is a chance to go to Endercon and meet Gabriel, one of the warriors in the Order of the Stick. The Order stands as the only souls to take on and defeat an Ender Dragon. They're legends, so meeting one of them is Jesse's dream. Of course, things go horribly awry.
It's worth noting that this is an adventure game in the Telltale style: a mix of wandering around discrete areas, dialog choices, quick-time events, and simple puzzles. Unlike Telltale's recent output since switching to this style of game - The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones, and Tales from the Borderlands - Minecraft: Story Mode is a family-friendly adventure. There's what could be termed "violence" and "death", but it's largely consequence-free.
Without some of those darker elements, I'm sure some older fans may find Minecraft: Story Mode lacking. Your choices still matter in the Telltale-style; you're deciding who comes with you and who gets left behind. There's still a sense of loss at times. A large number of non-player characters are even consumed by an evil entity at the halfway point of this episode. It's just lacking that feeling of finality and real danger. This is Telltale doing a Saturday morning cartoon experience, which makes sense considering most of Minecraft's audience. Minecraft Story mode is very safe, like a cool theme park. It's not Indiana Jones, it's the Goonies.
The tale takes a while to get to its major point, introducing you to Jesse (you can choose male or female Jesse in a first for a Telltale game), his pet pig Reuben, his friends Olivia and Axel, local building rival Lukas, and the adventurous Petra. You'll cover a lot of in-jokes for avid Minecraft players and most of the major Minecraft staples: zombies, torches, creepers, lava, spiders, minecarts, withers, endermen, and the lost realm of the Nether. The more into Minecraft you are, the better Story Mode will probably play for you.
Part of the issue I've had with episodic games is the first one or two episodes are all setup. They're the beginning of the story and by their very nature, they may miss out on some of the more interesting parts of the tale. Generally it take until episode 2 or 3 before everything really slots into place.
Story Mode does feel like it's building to something bigger, but the first episode covers a number of different sequences, taking you from a local event, to dark caves, Endercon, and the Nether. Like I said, theme park. You'll be doing a number QTE sequences and some fighting as well, keeping the game more active than something like the Walking Dead. A whole lot happens within the two-hour running time of the first episode. In addition, the simpler geometry of the Minecraft world lets Telltale craft some larger environments than their normal art direction would allow.
If you've been playing Telltale's other titles, you may be disappointed in Minecraft: Story Mode. I get that. This is tuned for kids; it's more active, the humor is rather simple, and it's all about saying "Hey, we know how much you love Minecraft." As a change from Telltale's normal wheelhouse, I find it to be an interesting diversion. This is a straightforward hero's journey, it's just a matter of how open you are to that kind of tale.
You'll build some simple items like a sword or bow, but most of the real crafting is done via montages. It's an adventure, not actually Minecraft.
Telltale roped in some awesome voice talent for the game and they all do an excellent job.
It's a Minecraft game. It looks like Minecraft.
Minecraft: Story Mode is off to a solid start, sending our heroes on a quest that will take them across their blocky world. If you're used to Telltale's current output, this isn't as serious, instead focusing on telling a family-friendly tale. With that understanding, Telltale kicks off a brisk adventure in this episode's two-hour running time.