Minecraft can be a real blast when played solo, but it's often a lot more fun when you've got friends messing around in the world alongside you. Setting up a proper co-op game on PC is a patience-draining nightmare that requires extra software downloads, server configuring, and far more irritating hoop-jumping than the average person has patience for. Multiplayer is a whole new deal now, thanks to the ease of access and functionality of Xbox Live, which allows for seamless drop-in co-op and party chat. You can invite friends to join your worlds-in-progress or leave them open for others to hop into while you're playing.
Either way it's a good time, and the lack of heinous setup mumbo jumbo is a welcome change of pace. Going one step further, the 360 edition also features split-screen co-op for up to four players. If you've got a large enough screen, a big comfy couch, some tasty beverages, and good grub, then this is the way to go for party play.
Unfortunately, a few excellent updates aren't a good trade-off for all of the content from the PC version that's missing. The 360 edition is a port of an older pre-Adventure Update Beta version of the game, which means the features, items, and updates that didn't make the cut this time around are pretty significant, and it shows. The variety of unique biome environments is limited, certain craftable items and resources aren't available, and some of the more exciting creatures are absent. There's no hunger or experience system, no alchemy or weapon buffing, and no Ender Dragon to hunt down and defeat. The free-form Creative mode is MIA too, leaving Survival mode as your only play option.
Eat your heart out, Robinson Crusoe!
Equally disappointing is that maps are no longer infinite. Wander too far in any direction, and you bump into an invisible wall. There's still plenty of room to explore and build, but the world now feels more like a caged-in biodome instead of a sprawling realm to map out. At least you can still build a portal to travel to the hell-like Nether dimension, yet even that region is constrained too. All of this will be less of an issue for new players who've yet to taste the PC extras, and some may even welcome the simplicity. But that same simplicity is enough to spur longtime Minecraft vets to stick with the PC version--at least until downloadable content either fills in the gaps or offers enticing exclusive updates.
While plenty of concessions were made to bring Minecraft to the Xbox 360, it's good to see that the overall depth and flexibility that made the original so engaging aren't completely sacrificed. However, despite the nice multiplayer options, the improved accessibility, and the refined crafting system, the missing elements are a sizable backslide from the PC version. But is the core foundation still a lot of fun? Absolutely--if you temper your expectations.
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