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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Sandbox approach offers many possibilities
Core mechanics are easy to grasp
Lots of depth to crafting
Multiplayer and mods are super fun
Incredible value for the price
Will feel aimless to some
No Marketplace on PS4
Each version requires separate purchase
Minecraft remains one of the best all-around games for kids and families—a simple experience with surprising depth that rewards initiative and creativity.
Minecraft is the ultimate indie gaming success story, gradually transforming from a solo project into a worldwide phenomenon with more than 100 million monthly active users, spinoff games, merchandise, conventions, and so much more. But it’s not all the stuff that makes Minecraft one of the world’s most popular games—it’s the game itself.
Even a decade after its original alpha release, Minecraft remains a pure and compelling sandbox experience, dropping players into a blocky world full of seemingly endless possibilities. It has no storyline, no missions, and no obvious hooks to pull you into the game. It’s essentially a blank canvas—a blocky, pixelated blank canvas. But the beauty of Minecraft is that not only is there so much more going on beneath the surface (literally, too), but the freeform design enables new and diverse kinds of play and is especially great for younger players.
Believe it or not, there is no plot in Minecraft—and no storyline or fleshed-out characters, either, although the boy and girl character skins are referred to as Steve and Alex, respectively. Minecraft is a freeform playground in which to use your own imagination to create adventures and narratives. Minecraft won’t do that heavy lifting for you, although there is an increasing number of storylines found externally in official books, comics, and spin-off games.
Minecraft is a freeform playground in which to use your own imagination to create adventures and narratives.
The name of the game in Minecraft is simplicity. While there are hundreds of items to discover, craft, and use, as well as various creatures to interact with, Minecraft never complicates the way that you actually interact with each randomly-generated game world.
As a blocky hero, you’ll explore the likewise blocky world by using the analog stick on your control, keys on your keyboard, or digital directional pad on your screen—depending on which device you’re playing on. You can jump, destroy blocks and items (mine), place blocks and items, and use menus to manage your inventory and use the crafting interface. It’s not a whole lot, and while there are some other minor game mechanics that pop up along the way, it’s amazing to see a five- or six-year-old grab the controller and quickly get comfortable.
My six-year-old son has become obsessed not only with playing Minecraft and experimenting within, but also reading about the ecosystem in books and gaining ideas for his next session.
Minecraft splits its experience into two core modes: Survival and Creative. Survival is the closest thing there is to an “adventure,” although it’s still pretty unstructured. You start with essentially nothing in Survival, which means it’s up to you to make the most of your surroundings. You’ll need to mine materials from trees and earth, build a shelter to protect yourself from the enemies that come out at night, and eventually assemble a crafting table to unlock many more possibilities. You have a health bar and are bound by gravity, so it’s about as close to a simulation as Minecraft gets.
Creative mode, on the other hand, removes the shackles. You have access to every single item available in the game, plus you can float through the air at will. With no life bar and no fear of peril, this is the mode for experimenting with the game’s many, many resources, as well as the mode for crafting massive, elaborate structures. Both modes offer a very different slice of Minecraft, and you might find yourself gravitating towards one or the other.
Some players will undoubtedly find Minecraft to be aimless, or even pointless. Without the kind of structure and deliberate nudges built into most other games, anyone expecting the Minecraft to do the work for them might be sorely disappointed. But for those who embrace the freeform nature of the experience, this pure sandbox affair can be deeply captivating. And the myriad nuances of the world and its creatures and items are likewise compelling. My six-year-old son has become obsessed not only with playing Minecraft and experimenting within, but also reading about the ecosystem in books and gaining ideas for his next session. It almost becomes a mindset more than just a game, but at least it’s one you can feel comfortable with.
Minecraft also has a significant multiplayer and modding component. Players can connect online to play together in both the Creative and Survival modes, or even connect to dedicated servers via the premium Minecraft Realms service. Realms charges a monthly fee, but lets you share an ongoing game world with friends far and wide. Both ways are also a great opportunity for parents and children to play together, plus the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch versions of Minecraft offer split-screen local multiplayer.
Minecraft remains such a pure and compelling sandbox experience, dropping players into a blocky world full of seemingly endless possibilities.
The PC, Xbox One, Switch, and mobile versions of Minecraft all feature a built-in Marketplace, where you can download character skins and community-made game modes. There are officially-licensed content packs based on the likes of Toy Story and Adventure Time, as well as mini-games and unique play modes to download and enjoy. Some of these features are free, while others require you to purchase in-game Minecraft Coins to access them. Sadly, the Marketplace isn’t available on PlayStation 4 due to Sony’s restrictions.
It’s all chunky and fuzzy in Minecraft, which uses a voxel-based system that makes everything look like giant 3D pixels. Even human characters and animals are boxy-looking, but that’s part of the lo-fi charm of the game. The Minecraft look has become iconic over the last 10 years, and influenced an untold number of other games since. There are visual modifications available that smooth out the graphics or apply lifelike textures, but the core look is decidedly Minecraft.
Minecraft is rated Everyone 10+ by the ESRB. You can craft and wield weapons such as swords, axes, and a bow and arrow, and use them to slay beasts such as zombies and the explosive Creeper, as well as attack and kill animals like pigs and wolves. You can also set animals and creatures on fire. However, it’s all presented in the same kind of goofy, pixel-stylized design and isn’t graphic or realistic at all. Escaping enemies in the nighttime can be intense, however, so younger players might do better with Creative mode or by staying inside of a shelter all night in Survival mode.
Teachers have customized and designed Minecraft worlds and scenarios that help deliver interactive lessons in history, science, math, and more.
How kid-appropriate is Minecraft? Appropriate enough for Microsoft to have designed an Education Edition of the game that is used for a wide array of subjects in classrooms around the world. Teachers have customized and designed Minecraft worlds and scenarios that help deliver interactive lessons in history, science, math, and more. Yes, it’s entirely possible that your kid’s experience playing Minecraft will come in handy at school—and also likely that Minecraft can help get your kid excited about a typically-rote subject.
Minecraft is an excellent value at $20 for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC versions of the game, and just $7 for the iOS and Android editions. That’s a steal for a game that players could potentially pour hundreds or thousands of hours into. The in-game Marketplace purchases might seem a bit pricey by comparison, with some content packs and new modes selling for the equivalent of $5+ apiece, but it could be a small price to pay to help keep an already-cheap game fresh for longer.
Minecraft has been described as many as modern-day or digital LEGOs although there actually are licensed LEGO Minecraft building kits out there. However, in the gaming world, LEGO tried to capitalize on the Minecraft phenomenon by making its own creative building game called LEGO Worlds.
Released in 2017, LEGO Worlds does things a bit differently, with a hilarious narrator giving cues and little LEGO minifigure characters doling out missions. We really liked the game’s unique, LEGO-built worlds and wide array of building possibilities, however, the building controls aren’t nearly as intuitive as in Minecraft, plus it turns repetitive faster. LEGO Worlds also hasn’t caught on to nearly the same extent as Minecraft, which remains a bona fide sensation today. Chances are much better that your friends are playing Minecraft than LEGO Worlds.
A modern classic.
Even a decade after release, Minecraft is an essential gaming experience for players of all ages, and especially for younger gamers. The sandbox design means that players can drop in and concoct their own experiences in each randomly-generated world, and the way it hooks in kids via good, old-fashioned creativity and experimentation is a sight to behold. Minecraft’s open-ended design won’t be for everyone—but it’s something truly special for those who embrace it.