Since TellTale Games’ sudden rise to popularity, Nintendo consoles have not seen anything from the adventure game studio. At long last, however, soon after the ever-popular Minecraft finally hit the Wii U, TellTale Games makes its triumphant return in Minecraft: Story Mode. But is Episode 1: The Order of the Stone a worthy experience, or a mediocre one?
First thing’s first: there isn’t much gameplay to Minecraft: Story Mode. In many ways this is like a playable animated film; a film where you choose the dialogue and push buttons every once in a while, but a film nonetheless. Any adventure game aspects present are extremely simple. You’ll walk around a room with the left stick, and move a cursor around with the right. You can click on some objects by hovering the cursor over them and hitting the appropriate button. Eventually you will click the right thing or move to the right location and the game will advance. Occasionally there is combat or crafting sections, but these are so short, easy, and lacking depth that it is hard to understand why they are even there.
Minecraft: Story Mode really is all about the story. Naturally, this puts a lot of pressure on the narrative. When the gameplay cannot back it up, it has to be a really, really good story. And in Episode 1‘s case, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The game tells the tale of a group of friends living in a small town. After entering into a building competition, things go sideways, and they find themselves caught up in a journey encompassing ancient orders, evil monsters, and lost heroes.
It’s not a terribly enthralling plot, at least not in this first episode. Things take a while to get interesting, and even once they do, I found myself not terribly enamored. The world and lore on display simply isn’t anything very interesting or deep, and in a lot of ways feels like the surface level of every fantasy world ever, only with blocks and Minecraft names. And the twists and turns just failed to get me excited. The pacing is a bit off, too; it felt like the flow of action to character moments and back again was not as well put together as it could have been.
Everything but the plot and pacing is pretty spot-on, however. The writing is engaging and amusing, if rarely laugh-out-loud funny; it feels a step above your standard video game writing and closer to the level of a legitimate animated movie. The characters are also very appealing. The main character Jesse and his/her friends are all distinct and feel fleshed out, even if I didn’t particularly love any of them. The potential for that is definitely there, though; this isn’t a long game, and there are many episodes to come. The action moments were also pretty cool, even if the quick time events that accompanied them failed to do much for or against the experience; they just sort of exist.
The voice acting is absolutely superb. It feels very professional, as most characters have an incredible amount of pathos and heart come through despite the limited visual style. The music also isn’t bad, although it can get a bit repetitive, and the sound editing in that regard was poorly done.
But of course, the big draw of TellTale games is that you can choose your own path. At times while cutscenes are playing out, you will get four options of how your character will respond during the conversation, with a timer counting down. Depending on your choice, it could affect the remainder of the game, and when you make a decision that matters, a notification will pop up in the upper left side letting you know. I will admit to falling for this element of the game. Choosing between moral quandaries is an immensely successful idea, and some of the decisions appear to have drastic effects on the way the story plays out. It’s just a fun thing to do, choosing where things go, and one I generally found to be enjoyable — even if at a certain point I just wanted to put away the controller and watch the thing like a movie, as it so clearly wanted to be.
Visually, the game is very pretty. Taking the overwhelmingly simple style of Minecraft and making expressive, unique characters and attractive environments could not have been easy, but TellTale seems to do have done it with relative ease. This is an appealing looking game, even while staying true to the minimalist style of Minecraft.
It is hard to qualify the problems with Minecraft: Story Mode because there is not much you can easily point to and say, “that is what held the game back.” In truth, there is little specifically wrong with this first episode’s story; it just did not come together in an overly compelling way. The plot and characters and set pieces had all the ingredients needed for an addicting tale, but it wound up as merely a mildly enjoyable, imminently forgettable experience. And when the only gameplay is occasionally pushing a button and walking through a linear environment, that story is all the more closely analyzed. It just didn’t stack up as something amazing.
But hey: it’s a pilot episode. I didn’t fall in love or anything near it, but as someone with limited experience in both Minecraft and TellTale games, I enjoyed Minecraft: Story Mode – Episode 1: “The Order of the Stone” a fair amount. The visuals and writing are appealing, and there is something satisfying about choosing your own path through conversations. Those looking for a deep story or compelling adventure gameplay may not find it, but there’s a lot to love in this first episode. It’s just not for everyone.