Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition (eShop) Review
Minecraft is arguably the biggest game in the world, and it has been for half a decade or so. As such, going into this review I thought there was little new to be seen in, and even less to be said about, the newest version of this international phenomenon. I’ve never been happier to be wrong; Minecraft for the Nintendo Switch may just be the best console experience that developers 4J Studios and Mojang have to offer.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last 5 years, Minecraft is a game about, well, mining and crafting. There’s much more to it than that, but for the most part, you’re going to spend a heck of a lot of time mining and crafting. But Minecraft is what you make of it. If you want to spend your time building a fortress out of stone, you can do that. If you want to take on the role of a dungeoneer and fight your way to the End to beat the final boss, you can do that too. Or, you can do a little bit of both; the possibilities are endless.
The game also offers a wide range of UI options, such as UI size and transparency, and the ability to switch between classic and simplified crafting. Simplified crafting gives you a list of all craftable items, and highlights those that can be crafted using the resources you’ve got in your inventory. Classic crafting gives an experience more similar to the PC version of Minecraft, and allows you to arrange your resources into specific patterns to craft new items. The latter is helpful for those who are making the jump from PC and already have all the crafting recipes memorised, while the former is good for new players and those who can’t be bothered remembering the dozens of crafting recipes, though unfortunately neither allow the use of the touch screen when crafting. If it wasn’t clear by now, Minecraft is all about letting you play exactly how you want to play, with few exceptions.
Another core experience of the game is exploration. Whether you’re searching for the best place to build your palace or hunting down diamonds in a crevasse, you’re likely to be wandering and exploring for a significant portion of the game. Luckily, all players start with a map in any world they create or join, so finding your way back home is easy, assuming you can read a map better than I can. Those who played the Wii U version of the game will be happy to learn that the maximum world size is significantly larger in the Switch version. Like, over 12 times larger. So if you like exploring, there is more than enough map to go around, and it’s extremely unlikely you’ll ever uncover it all.
By far the best way to play, however, is with friends. Online multiplayer on the Switch version of Minecraft is astonishingly flawless. If a friend is playing and they have their world set to open, you simply join the friend from the menu and you’re in. There’s no faffing about, no complicated menus and lobbies. And once you’re in, the game runs flawlessly. I was (and still am) genuinely surprised to see that there was no lag, no performance problems, just nothing negative about the experience in the slightest in the roughly sixty hours I’ve sunk into the game playing with friends.
On the topic of performance, Minecraft Switch Edition has presented little to no issues for me, in either docked or handheld mode. I did notice very brief moments of frame rate drops when the game autosaved, but other than that the experience has been smooth as butter. It’s a little disappointing that the game only runs at 720p while docked, however due to the blocky, low-res art-style of the game, this is easily forgiven. No matter how you play it, it looks just as great as any other version of Minecraft on the market.
One area where performance is less than optimal, however, is in the online multiplayer mini game modes. I’ll admit I didn’t spend much time with these game modes, simply because they didn’t appeal to me as much as just wandering around and frequently dying in giant pits of lava. There are two mini games on offer on the Switch version of Minecraft: Battle and Tumble.
Battle sees you compete against up to seven other players in a Hunger Games-style, survival of the fittest death match. Weapons and potions are available on a centre platform at the start of the match, but you’ll have to race against others to get to them and secure the good gear. During the first 15 seconds of the match, all players are immune to damage from other players, but once that timer is up, it’s every person for themselves. The centre chests will refill periodically, and there are other chests dotted around the map that are usually fairly well hidden that contain some of the stronger gear available in the match. Sadly, some of the maps are so large that you may not see any other players after that initial skirmish to the centre stockpile. I often found myself winning matches simply for not having the opportunity to find anyone before time was up.
In Tumble, by far the better of the two mini game modes, players all spawn on a platform suspended over a pool of lava. The aim of the game is to make all of the other players fall into the lava, and the game gives you one of two methods to achieve this goal. The first is with shovels, which you can use to dig out the ground underneath other players. The second is with snowballs, which you can throw at other players to knock them off the edge. Snowballs can also be thrown at the ground to destroy blocks. If you’re the last man standing, you win the match.
Unfortunately, both of these game modes are marred by latency issues that make it very difficult to land a hit on other players, and I get the feeling that Australian internet wasn’t taken into consideration when designing these experiences. Disconnects were also frequent, I struggled to stay connected to the servers for more than a single match, and others I’ve talked to have said they haven’t been able to connect to them at all in the first place. I’ve no doubt that they could be fun under the right circumstances, and perhaps local play could see these mini games shine, but for the moment, I can’t see myself playing them for any length of time.
One thing exclusive to Nintendo’s iterations of Minecraft, first appearing on the Wii U and conveniently bundled on the Switch, is the Super Mario Mashup Pack, one of many resource packs available in the game. Resource packs change the textures of just about everything in the game, from blocks to creatures and everything in between. They also change the music that plays in the background, which in the case of the Super Mario Mashup Pack, can be a bit frustrating.
While Minecraft’s soundtrack usually consists of calm, atmospheric music, the Super Mario Mashup Pack changes the soundtrack to be a loud, frantic collection of songs from Super Mario 64, with some strange choices, like the invincibility star music, thrown in for good measure. This can lead to some strange situations, such as when you’re running through a dungeon with half a dozen angry skeletons chasing you. The music may suggest you are invincible, but I can tell you from experience (and many, many lost resources) that you really really aren’t. It’s a minor fault at best, and easily remedied by lowering, or even turning off, the volume of the music.
Also included in the Mashup Packs are player skins, which change the appearance of your player model, sometimes quite significantly. The collection of Mario player skins is expansive and they’re all very well designed; chances are there’s a character in there you’re going to want to play as (I picked Donkey Kong, because duh). Player skins, like resource packs, are also available to buy as DLC bundles for a reasonable price, although it should be noted that some bundles, are strangely absent from the Switch version of the game, despite appearing on all other platforms. Hopefully, this is something that will be remedied in future updates, because I really want the Power Rangers skin pack that was released on other platforms earlier this year.
On a console seemingly packed with intense, time-consuming games like Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Shovel Knight, Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition feels like a breath of fresh air. With its endless possibilities and freeform gameplay structure, it can be as casual or intense as you want it to be. Coupled with the ability to undock and take it on the go without having to submit to finicky touch-screen controls, this might just be the best version of Minecraft on the market, and it is undoubtedly one of the best games currently available on the Switch.
Near-flawless performance, docked or handheld
Next to zero latency when playing with friends
More gameplay options than you can poke a stick at
Super Mario Mashup Pack soundtrack is extremely jarring
Connection and latency issues in online mini games