Yeah, there’s this crazy little game coming to the Switch where you can survive and create using a lot of blocks? What was it called again?
Minecraft. Way back when it was first released it is highly unlikely anyone could have expected that its primitive looks, even by the standards at that time, would allow it to become so popular. The fact that it is still highly relevant now for so many people would have been even more improbable. Regardless, here we are nearly 8 years after the initial release, talking about that same core game being released on Nintendo’s latest hardware.
Rather than dive extensively into the details of the game, since it seems hard to believe that at this point people wouldn’t at least have some loose familiarity with it, we’ll summarize it this way: Minecraft is a sandbox-style game that offers survival, creative, and adventure modes that allow people to enter a randomly-seeded world and roughly play the game they want to play. They can choose to do this alone or they can do this paired with friends. It is, no doubt, the open-ended nature of the game experience Minecraft offers that has helped it remain relevant, even as there have been many imitators that have entered the picture over the years.
With the formalities out of the way, we’ll move on to the crux of what it is likely people are most interested in: So what is the experience like on the Switch? Assuming you don’t need to be sold on the core game itself, there are quite a number of positives to be had for this implementation. That isn’t to say everything is perfectly rosey.
Probably the biggest areas of concern for this port are the version it is running, the performance it is able to sustain and the world size. On all counts, considering the Switch’s specs and portability, this edition delivers the goods pretty well. Consider that the previous best editions of Minecraft you could take on the go were the world-constrained Pocket Edition, which supported worlds at only 255 x 255, and the Vita edition, which is said to have struggled to perform at 800 x 800. By comparison, the Switch being able to maintain what seems to be a solid/consistent 60 FPS at 1080p docked and 720p in handheld mode complete with worlds that are 3072 x 3072 (compared to the Wii U only supporting 864 x 864) and it would seem to be a massive improvement over anything you could have previously taken with you. Granted, nothing is going to touch the PC edition, and the versions on the PS4 and XBOne are still bigger. All things considered, this will likely be the best portable version of the game that will be made.
In the control department, everything works reasonably as you’d expect. As an added benefit while you’re in handheld mode, the touchscreen can be used for general inventory-related functions, which is nice, but I couldn’t find any way to adopt full-touch controls like in the mobile edition. Local split-screen multiplayer for up to 4 people is supported, but aside from how that may not be practical in tabletop mode, keep in mind that you can’t use a single Joy-Con as a controller. You need 2 analog sticks to control your movement and aim independently, but that makes the cost of playing for a whole family prohibitive. As a note for 2-player split-screen, you do have an option to switch between vertical and horizontal modes, and that seemed like a nice and practical touch depending on what kind of play style you’re both looking to adopt.
Online multiplayer is supported for up to 8 players. Matchmaking was hard to test since the game isn’t in full release yet, but I was able to jump in with my 3 local players into another person’s game and it all worked pretty seamlessly. Both the Battle and Tumble mini-games are currently supported, though I was unable to get into any games with other people. The newest Gliding mini-game that looked like a lot of fun isn’t currently available, probably related to the specific version of the console edition they created the game from. Updates are coming to the Switch edition, so I’d imagine additional any elements missing in this launch version will make their way at some point.
Moving into what criticisms I’d have for this edition, the list isn’t very long. On the visual side of things, depending a bit on which texture pack you’re using and depending on how complex the geometry is around you, there can be some issues with draw distance and pop-in. While this is most noticeable when you’re gliding I’ll grant it that most of the time your rate of movement wouldn’t be that high so the issues wouldn’t be so visible.
The only other thing that I personally considered odd or a misstep is the inclusion of locked DLC in the starter edition of the game you get. I’m unsure of the pricing, though I’m sure it is consistent with what would be paid elsewhere, but that kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. If you started out with the packs that are free (there are a few, including the very charming Mario themed one), I’d have thought that was fine and would have gone through the link to the Minecraft store if I had been interested in more. Instead, the inclusion of content that I can see but not entirely use (you can walk through a sample world of the different packs, just not save anything in them) I just found odd since none of it is necessary to my enjoyment of the game, and I would have been fine with what was included in the first place. Not worth going crazy over; it just struck me as an odd choice.
At the end of the day, you're either a fan of Minecraft who was only reading this review as a formality or were just interested in knowing what it is bringing to the table. It’s a hard game to find people on the fence about, especially at this point. That makes the conclusion somewhat foregone, but here it is: For fans of Minecraft, this absolutely seems like the version you’ve been waiting for if you wanted to get as close to a full-fledged experience as you could realistically want on a handheld device. For people who aren’t among the already-converted, it is still the same game it has always been, and it has its merits, but aside from portability there’s nothing more compelling about this version than there has ever been. It’s been well-established there’s a ton of game to be had here if you enjoy it, the Switch is just making it more easily accessible than it has ever been.