(Lucky you have a short name, Jess.)
When I first heard about Minecraft: Story Mode, I (like many others) had so, so many questions. Most of them were variations of “why” and “how”, with a whole bunch of “what” thrown in there, just for good measure. Telltale, however, are masters of what they do, and so I approached this new addition to their growing oeuvre with cautious optimism that they would make good use of Minecraft’s signature design and unique feel. As it turns out, the expansive and immersive world of Minecraft was just crying out for someone to throw a proper plot into it – and Telltale seem to have found the perfect one.
For the first time, Telltale have allowed players a modicum of choice in the hero that they get to play as on this journey. ‘Jesse’, the main character, can be male or female, with several different appearances available for each gender. Given that Telltale games are based so much on player choices, it was refreshing to see that being included from the very beginning, especially when combined with a world like Minecraft’s in which every player’s experience is completely unique, and basically leaves them telling their own stories. I have personally chosen to play Jesse as a female (despite the male being voiced by well-known actor Patton Oswalt) but it doesn’t seem like characters treat you particularly differently based on your gender, which is exciting to see.
However you choose to customize them, the game follows Jesse and their friends on a classic ‘save the world’ style journey that has them searching for the only heroes that can possibly help them stop a huge and seemingly invincible monster from destroying their whole existence. I’m wary of including too much for fear of spoiling what is clearly a story-driven game, but the plot itself isn’t anything overly original. The originality comes in when the elements of Minecraft are introduced, and what would be a rather tired tale starts to somehow feel innovative, just because it all looks so fun and artistically interesting. Yes, it’s a story about a band of adventurers facing perils in all kinds of conditions in order to bring peace and order to the world, but the placing they’re going through are made of materials familiar to anyone who has ever played Minecraft. Honestly, I’ve never been incredibly into it (I love my point-and-clicks), but even I could tell that for someone who has dedicated a lot of time to the game, there are so many easter eggs to pick up here that you could easily be distracted.
One of the most exciting inclusions in the game is the crafting table, which would have been disappointing not to see make an appearance. Unlike in Telltale’s other games, where you would usually be given a weapon or an item (or have to seek it out) you now find the ingredients to make it yourself using recipes that will already be known to many players – and it’s infinitely more rewarding. The first time you use it, you’re explicitly told that it will feel better if you do it yourself and I was ready to heckle the game and call it a cheap way to make more work for me, but it just isn’t. The game wasn’t wrong, it’s nice to feel like you’re really building things in this world and somehow adding to the world around you. It doesn’t just tell you that Jesse and their friends are good at construction, you get to see it.
Of course, Telltale’s usual mechanics are at the core of M:SM, and you’ll still be pressing directional buttons to jump out of the way of arrows or repeatedly spamming action buttons to complete tasks, but in this game more than others those commands didn’t feel out of place. Never do you feel like you’re being given buttons to press just for the sake of it, or to break up the story into mini scenes. The whole thing feels fluid, and with each chapter only taking a couple of hours to complete, it makes the whole thing go quickly. Given that this is very much a family-friendly game, it makes sense that the chapters would be shorter so that younger gamers didn’t lose interest or focus, which worked for me as well. The dialogue is delivered with a humor that should appeal in some way to most people, and it didn’t take me long to grow genuinely attached to Jesse. There’s a lot here to keep you interested.
It’s worth noting that when I set out to write this review it was only going to cover the first chapter of this epic adventure, but just as it was about to be published Telltale released the second chapter in record time. Given that the first chapter firmly established the characters and plot, the second wasted no time in getting straight to the action, while maintaining the fun and humorous tone of the first. Personally, I’m excited to see where this journey goes, and am genuinely surprised at how perfect the match between the Telltale narrative structure and the Minecraft world really is. This is the game I never knew I needed, but am so glad I have, and it’s exciting that it’s something that could be enjoyed by players of all ages. Fingers crossed the rest of the chapters keep up this level of charm.
SSM was provided with a copy of Minecraft: Story Mode for review purposes by Telltale Games.