Just before popular indie game Minecraft was fully released, its developer Mojang brought out a portable version for iOS. It’s a significantly stripped-down affair compared to the main version, so I had a tinker with it to decide if it was still worth a look.
The good news is that much of the core game still works well. Graphically it’s on a par with the main version, although the draw distance is reduced. Touchscreen control works really well and is a pleasant surprise – the process of placing and destroying blocks is almost as intuitive with the touchscreen as with a mouse. The lack of buttons means there are some compromises – jumping is slightly awkward, although an autojump feature largely compensates for this. I was left wanting a Vita version – the touchscreen control works extremely well but real buttons would perfect the experience.
In this pocket edition of Minecraft you’re limited to playing in Creative mode on a small map with no enemies and no ability to fly (for those not in the know, Creative mode in Minecraft is like a God mode where you can build with an unlimited supply of blocks). This actually suits the platform quite well. After playing for a while I was glad of the absence of enemies – I’m not convinced the game would work with them present as the controls just aren’t nimble enough, and who wants to be surprised by a creeper on the bus? One of the joys of playing this stripped-down version of Minecraft was to be reminded of the simple pleasure of creative expression – it was enjoyable to just build a tower without having to worry about sourcing materials or caring about some of the more complex elements of the game. While this might not be Minecraft as you know it, it is an appropriate Minecraft for that mythical ten minutes on the bus, simple and stress-free.
Only a portion of the different kinds of blocks available in the main version are included in this pocket version, and while the selection allows for a significant amount of creativity, some of the omissions are something of a nuisance. It wasn’t long before I was pining for the full selection of coloured wool blocks. The most egregious omission, however, is doors – without them your constructions lack something, feeling more like buildings than homes.
The main thing that annoyed me about buying Minecraft – Pocket Edition is that I was sold an alpha version without being told. The title screen describes the game as ‘v0.1.2 alpha’, but there’s nothing on the App Store page to suggest that the game is actually an early alpha version. This may sound petty but it’s not the first time I’ve bought an indie game only to find I’d actually bought a pre-release version – when I bought Fate of the World it transpired I’d bought a beta version, although again the developer had obfuscated the game’s pre-release status. I don’t mind buying alpha and beta versions of indie games – I happily forked out for the main version of Minecraft back when it was in alpha. But I want to be told what I’m buying. I’m becoming tired of forking out for software only to find I’ve bought a pre-release and if indie developers continue to mis-sell their wares to me I’ll be happy to focus my wallet elsewhere.
But that aside, Minecraft – Pocket Edition is a modest success, and even in its current state it’s worth a look. If you’re more of a fan of the survival elements of the main game then this version may not be for you (at least currently), but if you’re happy just building a big house or creating some 3D pixel-art out of coloured wool then have a look – there’s even a free version now, so you can try before you buy.