Minecraft might be my favorite game of all time.
I play all kinds of other games, in a massive variety of genres and often for hundreds of hours. But in between all those experiments and dalliances, whenever I come down from the honeymoon phase of something new and find myself sitting bored on a weeknight, I open up Minecraft.
I’m not one of those who can claim to have been playing since the early alpha, mind you. I’m a bit too old for the demographic that was super into Minecraft immediately; it wasn’t even on my radar. I was first exposed to the game at college, when I saw a younger classmate in my anatomy/physiology course playing it on his laptop before lecture started. I saw a boxy-looking sheep and pixelly terrain, and was intrigued. In a post-Minecraft world, it’s hard to imagine there being a period of gaming history where there weren’t a million pixel-art games out there. But once upon a time, Minecraft’s look was extremely unusual (even off-putting to some). I asked him what game he was playing, and he told me a little about it. In particular, I remember being shown the crafting grid. In order to make a helmet, you literally drew a helmet (albeit a highly simplified one, to fit your square head) out of whatever material you wanted to use? Madness! This was really bizarre and unusual stuff, and the concept stuck in my brain.
I didn’t get around to actually getting the game for quite a while. I remember going home that night after class and finding it online, and being really angry that you had to actually buy the game, for some reason. I guess I assumed, because it looked so simple, that it would be free? I was also not a fan of making an account with some website in order to get access to the purchase. I’m a little crotchety about internet privacy even now, but I was super hardcore back then and hated making accounts for anything.
Then something weird happened. I started hearing people on the internet making fun of Minecraft players, like, as a demographic. Particularly, in those days, I heard the word “autistic” thrown around as if it was an insult. I’m not on the spectrum myself, but I find that sort of thing really distasteful. What was it about Minecraft that had attracted this sort of low-IQ negative attention, I wondered? If idiots hated it, maybe the game was cool?
I gave in. I made my Minecraft account (it wasn’t a Mojang account yet, back then), downloaded the game (only one version then, too), and dove in. I punched a tree and got some wood. I figured out how to make a crafting bench through brute force; I knew there was a way to get a 3×3 grid from watching my classmate play briefly, and there’s only so many things you can do with wooden logs and planks on a 2×2 grid. From there, I figured out how to draw a pickaxe and a sword. No such luck with making a wooden helmet. I was slightly disappointed, but forged ahead. I nearly died the first night (my friend had not mentioned the skeletons), then struck upon a brilliant idea: what if I just grab a bunch of dirt blocks, right, and then place them underneath myself as I jump, to get out of range of their arrows? And it worked! I stood atop my first “noob tower” (little did I know then, this is almost everyone’s first idea) with pride, in safety, and the game rewarded me with a beautiful square sunrise. Idea, then execution. Anything seemed possible in that moment.
My second shelter was a hole in the ground, that I sealed up by putting dirt over my head (aha, there’s no gravity for dirt blocks! weird!) and popped a torch on the wall next to me. A little vertical coffin. Halfway through the night, I got bored (and terrified, the zombie sounds were really intense) and figured, okay, what if I tunnel down even further? The ground just kept going and going. After a small eternity, I dropped down suddenly into what seemed to be an abandoned mine, and promptly died to poisonous spiders, astounded by the possibilities of what could be underneath the soil and rock.
That was almost 8 years ago, now. Damn.
Even though I was wide-eyed and innocent about it all, there was in fact a limit to how much stuff was in the game, it turned out. In those early days of the late beta, there was not nearly as much content in the game as there is now. There was no End, enchanting was completely different, no Wither, nothing interesting underwater, I could go on. But back then, the game seemed limitless even so. You have to understand, I wasn’t up on the wiki or anything, and the wiki back then wasn’t the professional-looking super-polished-and-complete thing it is now, anyway. If I wanted to know how deep down I could go, I’d have to dig down until I found stuff I couldn’t tunnel through. I could walk in any given direction for an hour or two and see new biome after new biome. No idea how many there were.
The game that Minecraft has become is truly immense. There’s far more specific things to do, more blocks to make, more enemies and bosses to fight. There’s even been new combat mechanics in the Java version for a while now (though truth be told, I prefer Bedrock these days, for the insane draw distance and no BUD-powered glitchy redstone). It’s the kind of thing that can occupy your time for, well, 8 years or more. But the sheer amount of content is never what captivated me about Minecraft. That’s all just icing on the cake. What I find most compelling is the heart and soul of the game, and it’s something that has remained intact throughout the many updates the game has received. I struggled for years with explaining that core appeal, but I think I finally have the ability to describe it.
Minecraft is a game in which the world is measurable and knowable, one in which the rules are clear and simple. And those rules are that every component of the world is there for you to pick up and rearrange in any way you like. One-meter-square blocks, of a thousand varieties, as far as the eye can see. You can pick up the dirt from beneath your feet, and turn it into whatever you like. There’s goals there if you want them: you can fight a dragon, go to other dimensions, learn to enchant items and brew potions, make fantastic electrical devices and contraptions out of redstone. Or you can build a house. Build a giant statue of yourself, peeing lava triumphantly onto a village. Or just dig up every single block down to the bedrock layer, in a 100×100 square. Set fire to a forest, or breed cows until they’re so thickly packed they clip into each other. Build hate-monuments to your rivals out of gold blocks. Whatever you want.
In a world full of competitive, intense, and complicated games, Minecraft is a simple pleasure and a comfort. It’s a game in which you can’t really lose, but also one in which you earn your successes through time and effort and exploration. Once you learn a few basics, Minecraft is like a warm blanket, a familiar comfort you can return to again and again.
I never did discover what about it earned the ire of so much of the internet, back in the day. Though, I did eventually learn that Notch is a g*merg*ter, a pizzagater/”centrist”, an anti-Semite and/or a fascist, which makes those big-nosed trading villagers a bit awkward. But it’s not like people were making fun of Notch back then. They were targeting his fans, and doing so in ways characteristic of the groups Notch represents, not the other way round.
So, okay Applebaps. It’s 2019, everybody knows what Minecraft is, are you going to review the 3DS version or what? Quit wasting my time!
Fine, fine. I mean, I’m doing a whole thing here, but that’s fair, it’s going on a bit long. Let’s cut to the chase.
The New 3DS Edition of Minecraft is kind of a technical marvel. Other Ocean and Mojang AB deserve massive props for being able to port it to a platform where it really shouldn’t be running at all.
Bad stuff: The draw distance is a little low. There’s a strict entity limit. Controlling yourself with the little New 3DS nub thing takes a lot of getting used to.
Good stuff: Even though the game’s framerate was pretty bad at launch, they’ve patched it several times and it runs fine as of version 1.8.13 (released November 2018). This right here is the core Minecraft experience in a very portable form. If you ask me, the Switch only sorta counts when it comes to portability, since it’s big enough to need its own carrying case. And the Pocket Edition’s touchscreen controls are uh… well, they’re touchscreen controls. They’re not good. I’ll take the nub over them. And there’s no stereoscopic 3D. That shit gives me a headache, so good riddance.
The worlds on offer here are bigger than Legacy Console worlds, though they’re not infinite. So that’s both good and bad. “Large” worlds are pretty big, though, over 2000 blocks to a side. That’s a lot of running around. Also a mixed thing: you can’t craft maps, but you just have a map on the bottom screen of the 3DS. And you get to see your coordinates at all times down there as well. I’m not a huge fan of playing with coords on, and I don’t miss them in Bedrock, but I know a lot of Java players who have F3 on like all the time. So, yeah.
Just like Pocket Edition, you can’t combine tools to repair them, so break away! It’s liberating, in a weird way. You can still repair using an anvil, though, so that’s something. All the crafting, in fact, is handled using a touchscreen recipe book, another hallmark of the PE-based port. You won’t be drawing any helmets, sadly.
The New 3DS Edition is also in an interesting place, because it’s kind of its own thing entirely. All the other modern console editions (except the PS4, apparently) got folded into Bedrock, which is fine because Bedrock is great and everything. But the Legacy Console Editions are all on pretty outdated hardware (the Xbox 360? PS3? the friggin WiiU? damn son) and very outdated feature-sets, and they’re also not systems you can throw in your purse and take to work.
Prior to the Better Together update, Pocket Edition was its own thing in this way, and the New 3DS Edition is feature-equivalent to PE 1.0.9 (sorta). Update: as of 1/16/19, the game has received its final update, adding in SHULKER BOXES (yesssss), woodland mansions, concrete and terracotta, magma blocks, and a bunch of other stuff. It’s now pretty close to 1.1.15. The difference is, unlike all but one of the other modern console editions, the 3DS won’t be getting Better Together. Nor does it have online multiplayer at the time of writing.
And you know what? That’s not a bad thing. This is one of 2 remaining console editions that’s still around and not becoming Bedrock, but also has all the major endgame content that the Legacy Console Editions lack. You’ve got the Nether, the End, the Enderdragon, the Wither, the Elytra, Elder Guardians, underwater temples, all that stuff. Everything I’d consider essential is here. And there is ad-hoc (local) multiplayer, if you can find someone else who actually owns this thing. You might not have access to the full Bedrock store, but so what? The store is the worst thing about Bedrock, it’s disgusting. They give you plenty of skins to play with as it is, and I found several in there that I like without spending any additional money.
If nothing else, you ought to try this version out for the novelty of it. It’s incredible that it runs on this hardware at all, and it’s a treat to have Minecraft on the go like this without having to use touchscreen control nonsense. It’s like seeing DOOM on a calculator; There’s a kind of charm to such an oddball edition of the game, and speaking as someone who has a long history with the game, it’s a perfectly-serviceable version of Minecraft. It’s not the polished wunderkind that Bedrock is, or the clunky-but-venerable beast that is Java. And that’s totally fine.
And you know what, eventually, Mojang is going to want to do other things. Or the game won’t be profitable. Or the server room will get hit by a meteor or something. Eventually, those servers are going to come down, and it’s going to affect every single existing console edition, PCs, and Unix. When that happens, and nobody can log in anymore to Bedrock or Java, you’re going to want a completely offline version of Minecraft around, to play in the nursing home. If you’re lucky, there will be some other 90 year old there with a still-working New 3DS (or 2DS, if it’s me), and you can still play local multiplayer with each other. There’s something really cool about that.