I've been a Telltale curmudgeon since they started going down the path of "serious drama" that's gotten them such widespread acclaim. It has always felt to me that their games tried too hard to be shockingly gory and twisty (the guy who shows up in the last episode of Walking Dead Season 1 was especially bad), earning a hard M in a way that seemed to say, "Remember when we did Sam and Max? Well, GUESS WHAT IDIOTS." Minecraft: Story Mode got me interested because it wasn't going to be that – it had to tell a story that wasn't gritty and hardcore, and so I wanted to see how they handled it. Something like Minecraft provides literally infinite possibilities, so how were they going to build the world out?
After all, Minecraft appeals to basically everyone. As of this June it had sold 70 million copies. That's a lot! It's the third best selling game of ALL TIME and in the United States, 1 in 5 people have played it. And unlike the other properties Telltale's worked on, this one has a huge life outside of the game itself: conventions, hundreds of YouTube channels with dozens of different focuses, a thriving mod scene, and around 16 different versions, all being actively updated, all running on different platforms. How do you try and find a way to create a story mode for this game that is a separate product that still has appeal to both the biggest fans, and the small time players who boot it up randomly for a few days at a time?
At first, it felt weird to see how much of the real world has snaked its way into the game. It comments on the Minecraft con scene and the celebrities that have grown and made money from the game as they command large audiences. I don't know who Captain Sparklez is, but I don't need to. Someone out there will play this, hear his voice and and freak the eff out. While the game begins with a focus on the die-hard fans, Telltale was smart enough to know they couldn't just coast on others coattails. After a kind of slow opening, there's a very clear point where the story kicks into gear. But more than anything I was surprised with how I enjoyed myself. Story Mode turns into a roller coaster of big action sequences and interesting character moments, from the point the Wither pops up and destroys everything to struggling with keeping the characters together.
What helps Minecraft is that it doesn't try to be overly gritty and self-serious like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us were determined to be. Story Mode still offers some difficult choices (and most of them were often black and white decisions), but it felt like the writers were having fun and enjoyed the world and what they could build with it. There's great spectacle, fun references to the property it is based on, and it pokes fun at Telltale's own "_____ will remember that" flavor text.
The game creates good feeling of walking through a world that someone already finished, something that actually fits with the story of the game, in that four heroes have already reached the final dungeon and defeated the Ender Dragon. Essentially, you're living in a world that's already been beaten--at least as much as you can "beat" Minecraft. You find and explore temples, follow the previous party's tracks through the Nether, and dealing with people, places, and heroes that are perhaps past their prime.
By the time the "Next time on Minecraft: Story Mode" preview, I was all in. I want to know what was going to be next step in an adventure to stop a ridiculously powerful monster from wrecking the world and the fates of the Order of the Stone that caused them to scatter across the world. Episode 1 definitely sets things up well, and while the characters are a little weak so far, the quest itself is interesting enough I can't wait to see what the next episode holds.