Since the company truly made a name for themselves with the release of The Walking Dead, there have been a lot of Telltale games. With all those titles focused towards a more mature audience however, Minecraft: Story Mode is Telltale’s first modern attempt to break that adult-leaning mold. Though a few of the episodes don’t quite hit the mark, there is no doubt that Story Mode manages all of the developer’s narrative styling, while delivering a family-friendly adventure rooted firmly in the Minecraft universe.
Due to the surprise addition of three more episodes part way through the season, Story Mode has actually ended up being a much longer than originally expected. Encompassing two story arcs instead of just one, the full season is better for it overall. The opening episodes suffer from issues such as stiff animations and a few slow moving plot points. By the game’s second half however, these are barely a memory. While the final product would be better if the issues had not been there in the first place, it’s hard not to admire how much work Telltale put in refining the game and addressing fan complaints as they went.
Minecraft: Story Mode sees players step into the shoes of Jesse, a man or woman depending on the player’s choice. Though Catherine Taber (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) does a solid job as female Jesse, it’s hard to pass up the dry wit of Patton Oswalt (Ratatouille) as male Jesse. Story Mode is the first Telltale game to feature such a choice, and it’s a nice change of pace from the usually much more hammered down narrative.
The game opens as Jesse, along with the character’s two best friends and pet pig named Reuben, make their way to a convention called Endercon. And of course, they soon find themselves mixed up in an evil plot to destroy the world. Jesse grew up idealizing a collection of heroes called The Order of the Stone, the only people known to have beaten the final Minecraft boss, the Ender Dragon. With the world threatened, Jesse and friends then have to go find the former Order members and bring them back together before it’s too late.
It’s important to note that, in terms of gameplay, Story Mode is nothing to write home about. While all Telltale games rely on quick-time events and have moved away from the usual adventure game puzzle fair, Story Mode in particular is a very directed and linear experience. Even when you do have control of your character, it is often only to walk forward or back. This is problematic early on due to the game’s already stiff animations. As things loosen up however, the limitations become much less important or noticeable with each episode.
Early on, instead of puzzles or action, the game largely bets on its characters and setting. In the main cast, the two friends you start with, Olivia and Axel, end up being the least developed. Axel is more of an action-first kind of guy, while Olivia wants to be an engineer. Both are strong personalities to start with, but both also soon fade into the background beside more interesting characters. The rough and tumble explorer Petra (voiced by Ashley Johnson, Ellie from The Last of Us), the conflicted good-guy caught in a bad situation Lukas, and the joyfully maniacal Ivor all steal the show.
Meant to appeal to a younger audience, Story Mode never offers the character depth or interpersonal tension on par with something like The Walking Dead. But even with that said, the characters are fun to explore alongside and provide a robust range of personalities to fill the world with.
As such, the real star of the game is none other than the world itself. Story Mode doesn’t simply take on a Minecraft-styled coat of paint. From beginning to end, the game is bursting with nods and references for fans. Even the stranger parts of Minecraft’s meta-game, like the Far Lands – the place in a Minecraft map where the procedural generation algorithms break down and the game begins to glitch – make an appearance.
These references are stitched into the world of Story Mode, fusing Minecraft, its fan-base, and everything else surrounding the game into a coherent narrative world that is a genuine joy to explore. Even if you are not a diehard fan of Minecraft and only have a passing understanding of the game, the consistent oddities make for a varied and unpredictable experience. One episode sees you tumbling through a massive system of grinders – player-made contraptions used to harvest resources from monsters – while another sees you fall straight into a game of spleef – a competitive activity in which players try to break the blocks beneath each other’s feet.
Admittedly, due to this variety of locales, the game does suffer as a single cohesive whole. The first couple episodes struggle to really build on the tension of the Wither Storm conflict that makes up the game’s first arc. In a similar way, the final episodes don’t offer an overall closure to the narrative. Instead, Story Mode is largely made up of more stand-alone parts. Where the first arc fights against this, the second embraces it. It is somewhere in the middle ground between the two approaches, marrying consequences with stand-alone stories, that Story Mode finds its best episodes however.
As the series goes on, the fight scenes become more fluid, the more exciting characters come to the foreground, and the corners of the Minecraft world we see get more interesting. Despite the family-friendly leaning, the game even manages a few hard emotional hits. Simply put, Minecraft: Story Mode isn’t the best game Telltale has made, but it also doesn’t have to be. At its core, the game is about having enjoyable adventures with friends, and despite its flaws, that’s exactly what Story Mode delivers.