Much like Borderlands, Minecraft doesn’t necessarily spring to mind when you think of franchises that would adapt well to Telltale Game’s adventure formula. But as they inexplicably did with Gearbox Software’s shoot-and-loot hit, the episodic game experts have turned the blocky building and survival simulation into a story-driven, character-focused, five-episode interactive romp that will appeal to Telltale and Minecraft fans alike.
Before I got to dive into Minecraft: Story Mode, Episode 1: The Order of the Stone, Telltale’s Director of Creative Communications Job Stauffer told me about the inspiration for this genre mash-up. “We thought about the ideas of adventure, survival, creation, and sticking with your friends. A few things went up on the board first for inspiration, and those were ‘The Goonies,’ ‘Ghostbusters,’ and the tone of a lot of Pixar movies.”
These inspirations immediately surface as Jesse – playfully performed by comedian Patton Oswalt – interacts with his friends early in the game. Despite the characters sporting big, blocky heads, their individual personalities, emotions, and affection for each other shine through in their funny, lighthearted encounters.
Of course, being a protagonist in a Telltale game means that many personality traits are shaped by player choices and decisions. One of the game’s earliest choice-and-consequence moments had me selecting between the safety of my pet pig Reuben and that of a structure my friends and I had worked hard to craft. As an animal lover, my choice was obvious… but I can definitely see a Minecraft fanatic aligning with their precious project.
My pig-rescuing decision led me down a path that embraced both Telltale’s signature storytelling and humor and Minecraft‘s Creeper-crushing combat. Reuben (who, by the way, was adorably cosplaying as a dragon) ended up with a black eye, while Jesse’s wooden sword met its match against Spiders and Creepers. Thankfully, my potbellied pal and I were rescued by a mysterious heroine. From there, my journey took many unexpected turns that indeed evoked a ‘Goonies’-like adventure.
Without spoiling story specifics, I’ll say that the quest put me in front of a few craft tables that allowed construction of familiar Minecraft gear, such as swords, a bow and arrow, and some puzzle-deciphering devices. A number of decisions – pressured by an on-screen timer – also saw friendships tested, alliances formed, and foes intimidated.
What struck me the most, though, wasn’t just the deft balancing between familiar Minecraft elements and Telltale’s specific brand of player-choice-driven storytelling, but the characters and their relationships with each other. Thanks to terrific writing and spot-on performances, these primitive avatars had me rooting for them. Whether I was deciphering a crafting recipe or making a decision that had no clear right or wrong answer, I cared for – and wanted to help – these pixel people and their portly pet.
After I’d finished playing, I asked Stauffer what Minecraft: Story Mode‘s secret ingredient is. “It’s in that all-ages adventure genre. In accurately portraying the Minecraft universe and all of its charms – combined with our own strengths in storytelling – we hope to retain the best of both worlds,” he told me. “All these aspects of Minecraft, building, exploring, surviving, crafting, are still represented… just in a completely fresh cinematic language than what Minecraft players are used to playing.”
Fans can experience this charm-filled blend of both worlds now, as Minecraft: Story Mode‘s first episode is available now on Xbox One, Windows PC, Xbox 360, and other platforms.
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