With the success of Minecraft – having sold nearly 4 million copies, and having 15 million users – it’s picked up quite an amount of fans, many of whom wanted an Android version! Notch, the lead developer, obliged to this on 16th August, though to begin with the game was only available for the Xperia Play. Now it’s available on a wide range of Android phones (you can find the system requirements here).
But how well does the mouse-and-keyboard game to which many hours have been lost transfer to a small screen, touch controls, and a few minutes of play at the bus stop?
What Is Minecraft?
In case you’ve been living under a block, I’ll briefly explain what Minecraft is. On first glance, it’s a simple construction game, where you can build things and break things. On looking closer you’ll see it’s an open world where you can build anything you want – big or small, simple or stupidly complex; it’s up to you. It’s possible to build anything you like, recreating the environment as you see fit. The mobs (the different creatures in Minecraft) add an extra layer of adventure by making it easier or harder to survive, depending on the mob.
I've infinite gold!!
Minecraft began as a small indie game by a single passionate developer; as more and more people experienced the game and urged friends to play it its fan base spiraled into the millions, allowing Notch to build a development team currently sized at seven people. Despite the massive rise to fame Notch has gained, he still holds true to pleasing Minecrafters.
The controls seem very sensible: there’s a virtual D-pad on the left of the screen, and you look around by dragging on the right of the screen. In practice, this can be tricky to work with – especially when building something!
Though it may just be my incompetence at controlling something so simple I do think it could be easier. The D-pad takes up a lot of screen space too, and a more minimalist design would be nicer – even a simple dot could work well as a reference point.
For those who have played Minecraft before, the Pocket Edition is more like the Creative Mode found in the desktop game, although there are some differences as it misses out on some of its features such as flying, and in the Pocket version blocks take a few seconds to destroy. At the moment the Pocket Edition doesn’t include any mobs, though in time I’m sure we’ll start to see some!
The amount of blocks is drastically less than I’d like, though with 36 different blocks there is still a wide range from which to choose. You have unlimited blocks which you can place anywhere you like, while also being able to destroy any blocks you’d like. You can mine all you like, though I felt this was pointless, as I had no need to mine for any resources. The Android version does feel like it’s for creation only, which I hope changes in future updates.
Its a big world out there
While the worlds aren’t really big enough to explore, there is plenty of room to build whatever you want. I hope the worlds get bigger, though with the smaller powered phones I don’t think this will be happening. The Pocket Edition doesn’t seem to be designed for hours of playing in a single session; it’s built for those five spare minutes you have when sitting on the bus or waiting for a lift home.
This works well, though I’d like to see some integration with the desktop version. The texture pack used is much the same as the desktop version, and looks fantastic on the same mobile screen! For those not familiar with Minecraft, the graphical style is intentionally lower-res than most modern games; it’s part of the game’s charm. The lack of top-end graphics add to the creativeness of the game.
A big difference between the desktop and Android versions is the lack of night:
“A night-and-day cycle is something we are hesitant towards, since you have a much shorter time span when playing on a mobile device,” said Mojang in an e-mail to Wired. “Imagine you have a five-minute bus ride to play on and it’s pitch dark the whole time.”
This means there’s no Survival Mode, which is a let down in my opinion. Survival Mode on the desktop version consists of you, the player, having to mine and gather resources to build tools and shelter to survive both day and night whilst under constant threat of attack from different creatures. In the Pocket Edition, you have unlimited resources, but there’s neither night nor creatures. This is still fun, but there is no sense of adventure.
I can see where the developers were coming from in deciding against having a survival mode on the Pocket Edition; if it was survival mode, the five free minutes you had could be spent playing in the dark, which would be annoying.
I wish I did build this! Built on the desktop creative version
In Creative Mode, as the name suggests, all you can do is create. There’s no fight for survival, which is the aspect that many Minecrafters find most enjoyable. I hope this gets tackled in an update, though it’ll depend on whether there’s enough demand for such a change in the game. I’d particularly like to see mobs added to the Pocket Edition, as well as a limitation on your resources, to add those extra fun blocks of adventure to the game.
There’s an online mode available on the Pocket Edition, though both players need to be connected to the same WiFi network to play together. One player hosts the map while the other can join in with the building. Theres a small amount of exploring to be done on joining the server to find the other players from the spawn point. The worlds seem a lot bigger when trying to find your friends!
The lack of character customisation is another feature I miss from the desktop version; I hope that skins are added in the near future. There is the option to change your username under Settings, unlike in the desktop version where your minecraft.net username is used on all the servers.
There are some useful options available; you can set the graphics to Fancy or a Lower quality, which, as in the desktop version, increases or decreases the render distance. The controls can also be changed, with options to invert the Y-axis or to use “Lefty” mode which moves the D-pad to the right. Vibration can be toggled, and of course there are some options regarding the online mode.
Notch is always keen to hear new ideas for the game, and this remains true for the Android version. While it’s only a basic creative edition at the moment, I’m pretty sure over time it’ll transform into something truly unique, just for mobiles. Some things I’d like to see included are:
The ability to share worlds with friends.
Mods and texture packs, made possible through Android Market or some form of in-game store.
Less fidgety controls (though admittedly this is a tricky problem, with such a big game on a small screen).
Just like the PC/Mac/Linux version of Minecraft we’re planning to continue developing the Pocket Edition for a long time with frequent updates. We’re looking forward to engaging in further discussions with our community as we take the next step for the Pocket Edition.
While I know the best proof will be updates, I’m sure we won’t have to wait long for them!
While this Android version of Minecraft is a pretty bare bones game at the moment, it is sticking to its roots to ensure that the core that all Minecrafters loved is the centre of attention: creating things. I have a feeling this game may need another review in a few months as it’ll be totally transformed!
There’s a demo available which you can try for free; it gives a pretty clear idea of what the game is like, though you can’t use all the blocks, or save the game.