Minecraft has, arguably, been the grandaddy of the crafting genre as we know it today, and it’s still the gold standard that many imitators strive to emulate as we move forward in the video gaming world. Microsoft took control of Minecraft some time ago, and the game continues to develop and unfold in ways that only further their galactic proportions of popularity and playerbase. Therefore, when the Nintendo Switch version landed in my lap, I knew I would have quite the ordeal ahead of me.
If you haven’t played before, here is a quick rundown of the vanilla of Minecraft: you have no purpose other than to survive. You can create things by breaking other things down into their basic components and then crafting them together into whole new items. You have a stamina and health meter than need to be kept in check through food and rest. You gotta hunt animals or find food lying around to keep from dying. If you fall from too high, you will die. If you stay underwater too long, you will drown. If a zombie or wolf or even an angry horse hits you too much, you’ll die. Then you respawn and try again. There is an end boss: you don’t need to fight him or even look for him. Minecraft is Legos, Kinects and Imagination all rolled into one and that’s seriously underselling the full experience. You can play in a world of your own making or another person’s, and you can simply fly over and marvel at all the effort they put into creating their own chunk of digital real estate.
Let’s get the technical aspects out of the way first: Minecraft looks and feels amazing on the Switch. For those of us who had the short-lived pleasure of Minecraft on the WiiU, the Switch version is leagues ahead in nearly every category. A constant 60fps, significantly larger worlds, incredibly minimal footprint (only 540 MB!) and optimized in a huge way. The load times, which were more than I cared for on the WiiU, were hilariously short for the Switch. I was able to jump into brand new and prefab worlds that were only limited by my card speed and internet connection. And yes, you’ll be heading online with Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition (more on that in a moment).
The controls of Minecraft port fairly well to the Switch. I was never lost or confused as to which button I should hit in order to keep on moving, so someone in Mojang did their research before bringing on over their game. I wouldn’t say intuitive: double tapping forward still feels like a weird way to initiate a sprint, but I understand that other buttons were mapped and therefore taken. Even still, I spent most of my time walking in order to reach locations. There were a couple of times I opened inventory instead of my crafting table, but that was purely my own slippery fingers. Overall, though, most players will be fine if they can make it through the tutorial.
That is something that I feel is horribly daunting for a player who is coming into Minecraft for the first time: the tutorial. At this point, there is so much for new players to learn and to understand that it can be overwhelming unless you’ve dedicated a few hours to getting the mechanics and ideas of the game down pat. The tutorial tries its best to introduce things in a succinct, calm but direct manner, and it, well, it succeeds. You are inundated with multiple text boxes as you proceed, new items that you encounter are immediately introduced, and you could theoretically try out everything in a small area by just slowly going through the tutorial world. But my God, even as a veteran, it dawned on me how MUCH it is.
For many, you’re going to want to jump right into the Super Mario World edition that exists for the Switch. That alone is worth the price of admission, and it’s thoroughly enjoyable as a Minecraft/Nintendo experience. The entirety of this prepared World is bright, colorful and peppered with Mario soundtrack music from across the generations. It’s satisfying to craft your own fire flowers and mystery blocks, and I appreciate that the basic sprites were touched up a bit to fit into the world (am I crazy, or are the cows from Mario Kart?). Like so many other things involving Minecraft, the chance to see these massive structures built brick-by-brick to resemble Bowser’s Airship or a giant Blooper is just fun. I spent significantly more time playing around here than I did in any of the other mash-up worlds. A note about the other worlds ; only Festive World is available in full. Everything else is a trial that is incredibly limiting and wants you to pay about 4-6 dollars a hit to unlock. They certainly seemed interesting enough, but paying a fifth of the total game price to unlock a megabyte of DLC really did not sit well with me. For most players, though, I wouldn’t worry. If we’re being honest, the Mario content is why you got it from Nintendo, and that’s where your time will go.
The online servers, as the game is fairly new, are bustling with players for Battle or Tumble, so interacting with others won’t be a problem. Sharing worlds with friends is also pretty painless, and I really appreciate that there’s some consideration for WiiU players to port their worlds over to the Switch. A console release of such a huge PC game is trying, at best, but the Switch has really done a bang-up job in making a well rounded port overall. The integration of touch screen controls makes going through inventory a lot faster when you play portable, but the darkness of being underwater is far too dark for the built in screen. There aren’t any rumble or gyroscope features, but believe when I say that shouldn’t be a factor. At all.
So where does this leave the Nintendo Switch Edition? Many long-time players will argue that nothing can top the PC version, and they’re not wrong. It’s got tons of mods, a much larger playerbase and gets updates constantly. Some of the crazier videos you see on YouTube can only be accomplished with the PC version, and kids might be disappointed to learn the limitations of the Switch.
On the other hand, this is the best console port of Minecraft to date. It runs fantastically, tiny footprint and, best of all, can be taken anywhere. The Switch’s portability makes this the best portable version of Minecraft, though some would say that’s unfair since it has much stronger specs than the average smart phone. Additionally, the Mario content and the overall finesse of the game does make it enticing for Minecraft diehards and new players who are ready to dedicate days if not weeks to fully getting a feel for what they can do and what they can’t.
The Switch is a pretty fantastic “vanilla plus” version of the game, and you will get your money’s worth time and time again if you get hooked/are hooked on the craft. Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition is available as digital only now from the eShop for £19.99/$29.99 US, and a physical release is planned for later this summer.