Although Nintendo games tend to focus primarily on gameplay, there are other games that go in a completely different direction. Some aren’t so much about gameplay as they are about story or experience, and while it’s certainly different from a conventional video game, it’s not necessarily worse because of it. Minecraft: Story Mode – Episode 1: The Order of the Stone is one of those titles, trading gameplay for a rich story that has its own appeal.
Telltale Games is known for creating story-driven experiences, and the “gameplay” of its releases often feels more like a choose-your-own adventure novel. The game is actually an expansion that lasts just over an hour, with interactive aspects and quick events scattered throughout to keep things interesting. For example, a character might ask your opinion on something and you have four potential dialogue options with only seconds to choose one.
While not everyone enjoys being rushed through things, it keeps the game fast-paced and makes it pseudo-realistic, in a way, because real life isn’t always waiting for you to think about every results. Also, some scenes are more like a point-and-click game, where your character can be freely controlled in a limited space and examine environmental objects. It can be somewhat irritating to move a cursor with the right analog stick, but this can be easily alleviated by simply pressing the object on the GamePad screen, which mirrors the TV.
The gameplay can be quite limited, but the story more than takes over and Telltale has made sure its characters are all well-written and likable to some degree. The story mainly follows the main character, Jesse, a dimwitted individual who is something of a social outcast, and his two best friends, Olivia and Axel. What begins as a trip to the annual EnderCon competition quickly spins out of control and sees our heroes and their pig sidekick, Reuben, embark on a quest to find the lost members of the Order of the Stone and save the world.
The plot is perhaps quite predictable and some jokes seem a little forced, but the excellent voice acting adds an extra dimension to the characters and makes them all the more realistic. If there’s one thing it does an exceptional job of, it’s introducing us to the main characters who will star in this five-part quest and giving them plenty of attention. Although Jesse is an “unlikely hero” that we’ve seen in so many stories before, the feeling of watching him mature over time is always satisfying and positive. Friends become enemies, and vice versa, and many open questions remain open for answer in a later episode. It ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, and the story closes the curtains on a nice break from the action and pretty much sets up the next installment.
The animation quality is also surprisingly excellent; you wouldn’t think so many facial expressions could be coaxed out of such a blocky face, but the variety is really, really nice. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t always maintain a stable frame rate, and while it usually drops when a story branch is hit, it’s still enough to pull one out of the experience once in a while. It’s like the equivalent of video buffering – usually not enough to ruin content, but just enough to be irritating.
All told, Minecraft: Story Mode is a wild ride from start to finish, telling an engrossing story filled with twists and interesting characters. That being said, not everyone will be impressed that this is essentially an interactive movie. If you’re the type of gamer who skips cutscenes and prefers satisfying gameplay, steer clear and look elsewhere for your game fix. If you’re the type of gamer who enjoys listening to a good story (and don’t mind spending the money to hear it all), we highly recommend it. Minecraft: Story Mode does a great job of bringing the somewhat anonymous world of Minecraft; it’s a story you’ll want to hear.