Minecraft: Story Mode hands-on: This one's for the fans

Telltale's new game is more for Minecraft addicts than it is for fans of The Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us.

minecraft story mode 3

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I didn’t know what to expect from Telltale’s latest game, Minecraft: Story Mode, because I never expected Minecraft: Story Mode to exist. Like The Lego Movie or the film adaptation of Battleship, it’s a weird enigma—a story created from something inherently story-less (or at least story-light).

After playing about fifteen minutes of Minecraft: Story Mode at PAX, I have come to one conclusion though: This is a game for Minecraft fans, not Telltale fans.

Inside jokes

It’s an important distinction to make, because I feel like previous Telltale games have been pretty approachable even to those who weren’t fans of the source material. I didn’t care at all about The Walking Dead before playing Telltale’s game. I only knew bits and pieces of Fables before trying Wolf Among Us.

Minecraft might turn out the same way, when all is said and done. This demo was a bit weird in that we played two nonconsecutive slices of the game with minimal setup, which makes it pretty hard to get a feel for the characters—a.k.a. the most important part of any Telltale game.

But as someone who has played a bit of Minecraft but wouldn’t necessarily term myself a fan, I often felt like I was grasping at the edges of inside jokes with Minecraft: Story Mode.

minecraft story mode jesse

The many faces of Minecraft: Story Mode's Jesse.

The game stars Jesse—either a male character voiced by Patton Oswalt or a woman voiced by Catherine Taber, depending on what the player chooses. Our demo started with Jesse and his/her pet pig Reuben on the way to a convention known as Endercon when Reuben’s costume catches fire. I took over as Jesse hunted through the woods for Reuben.

It certainly looks like Minecraft. Like with Tales from the Borderlands, Telltale has expertly coerced its aging engine into mimicking another game’s art style. I wandered aimlessly through the woods, sometimes turning left, sometimes right, until I found Reuben hiding in some shrubs.

I took too long though, and the sun set as Reuben and I walked back through the woods. Zombies, spiders, and a creeper came after me as I drew my sword. I killed one zombie, killed another, killed a third, then *poof*, my wooden sword cracked in half. And Patton Oswalt made a joke about wooden swords being fragile.

minecraft story mode

Luckily I was saved by Petra, a [friend/acquaintance/stranger]. I’m not quite sure what her relationship is to Jesse at the beginning of the game. Regardless, Petra took me to her hidden base in a dank cave, replete with a crafting table and a chest full of supplies. There I got to use Minecraft: Story Mode’s crafting system to create a stone sword—two cobblestones and a piece of wood in a straight line. It’s an interesting application of classic Minecraft game mechanics to Telltale’s story-focused walkabout, and I’m curious to see how flexible the system is in the full game.

The demo then cut to a second (short) scene. After arriving at Endercon, some unexplained series of events has led to an evil creature invading the world. It’s a massive, floating Ender-something with three heads and lasers/tractor beams shooting out of its mouth.

This second scene was heavy on the action, with Jesse mostly preoccupied with fleeing. It’s standard Telltale material—lots of quick-time events, minimal user input, and the occasional blink-and-you-miss-it choice. The scene ended with Jesse pulling out flint and steel to ignite a Nether portal.

As the demo ended and I thought back on what I’d played—creepers, jokes about wooden swords, Ender-beings, Nether portals with flint and steel—this is when I started to wonder how interesting Minecraft: Story Mode would be to non-fans.

minecraft story mode 2

Minecraft: Story Mode isn’t The Lego Movie or Lego Dimensions, where a general knowledge of pop culture carries the story. It’s not The Walking Dead where all you need to know is “There are zombies, and zombies are bad.” It’s more like South Park: The Stick of Truth—a fan game for fans. What I saw of Minecraft: Story Mode is very pointedly aimed at people who already play Minecraft, who will catch and appreciate the references.

And that’s totally fine! Minecraft is played by millions and millions of people, so that’s certainly not a niche base. But it was an interesting experience as someone who plays and enjoys Telltale’s games—this definitely didn’t feel like it was made “for me,” the Telltale consumer. It’s a Minecraft game first and foremost.

We’ll see if my opinion changes later—Telltale’s got five episodes to prove me wrong, and I hope they do. There’s no specific release date for Minecraft: Story Mode yet, but I imagine it’s only a matter of months if we’re playing the game at PAX. Certainly by the end of 2015.

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