Minecraft: Story Mode – The Order Of The Stone
360, iOS, PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox One
Stamping Telltale’s heavily authored narrative template onto Mojang’s world of unbridled player creativity is a curious notion, and a marriage that seems disharmonious from the off. “It’s better when you make it yourself,” says one character after another crafts a replacement sword, and most players will find themselves nodding along in agreement.
Even once you’ve made peace with the format, the problems are not insignificant. The pacing of this opening episode is strangely uneven for a studio with such storytelling experience. And while Minecraft’s aesthetic has taken on meaning, that utilitarian look is an uncomfortable fit for a presentational style that draws from the visual language of TV and cinema. Even so, its action beats fare better than its clumsy exploratory thirdperson sequences, with their restrictive camera angles and limited interactions.
A younger audience may not notice, but it’s disappointing, too, how closely this adheres to the studio’s established formula – two or three sequences share alarming similarities with The Walking Dead, albeit a PG-rated cut. And given that its gentle humour and simple plotting are considerately tuned to its target demographic, it’s strange that players aren’t given more Protagonist Jesse can be male or female. Both lead actors put in solid performances, though for once we favoured a male – Patton Oswalt may sound slightly too old in the role, but his comic timing is typically strong time to make decisions, and that QTE sequences are often unforgiving in their timing. Indeed, while button commands are easily parsed, blocky arrows indicating D-pad or analogue-stick inputs can sometimes be missed in the heat of the moment.
If certain plot developments won’t surprise many adults and the characterisation is a little thin at this early stage, there are ideas and themes here that will resonate with players of the right age. The central setpiece – a convention for budding builders goes predictably awry – is imaginatively realised. And if the pride felt at the effort invested in harvesting resources and building colossal structures is lost, there is comedic mileage in the speed and simplicity of the process, as four friends knock up a 30-foot monstrosity in a matter of seconds. The voice cast is strong, too, particularly Ashley Johnson as the courageous and likeable Petra, although Jesse’s pet pig, Reuben, steals the show with little more than a handful of expressions and squeals.
For parents, there’s a psychological fascination in witnessing your offspring’s choices – as well as the pride or horror that results from seeing them test their social skills and morals. But while many kids will relish choosing the name of their gang, and delight in the reminders of that decision, some will be left wondering why a world that normally affords great agency doesn’t offer more room to shape their story.