Gaming on phones has become a massive use of smartphones these days, and the games are getting more and more sophisticated. As we reported last week, Minecraft pocket edition has finally landed on Windows Phone, but how does it play on the range of hardware available to users? From the massive 1520 to the extremely affordable 520, Windows Phones come in all shapes and sizes. Minecraft was developed to support devices with only 512MB of RAM.
After shelling out $6.99, Minecraft installs without a hiccup on more than one device if they are all on the same Microsoft account. The game runs smoothly and menus and navigation are fast. The options are stripped down from the full game, but similar to the game on other mobile platforms. Generating a new world is fast even on the 520, and gameplay starts right away with no tutorials or how-to guides.
After playing for a few minutes with the default settings, I quickly decided to review the control options and try to make some changes. On every phone the directional pad to navigate around felt too small, luckily there is a way to make it bigger and easier to use. The other annoying control was having to reach and tap directly on the block I wanted to interact with, but luckily there was a setting which could change that. When the option for split controls is turned on the game acts more like there are two joysticks, one for direction and jumping, one for looking and interacting. This setting also enables interaction with block at the crosshairs in the center of the screen by tapping near the right corner instead of reaching to each block.
When the settings were figured out the game was much easier to play and it felt much more natural to a long time Minecraft classic player. Playing on different screen sizes wasn't that big of a difference, other than the fact that thumbs will take up more of the screen on small phones. The Lumia 1520 was a great device to play on because the screen was so large and it was easy to use the directional d-pad without taking up too much of the screen. Using a Lumia 1020 was completely acceptable and still fun, but I felt myself wishing the screen was a bit bigger.
When comparing pocket edition to the classic version it is obvious there are a lot of features missing. Redstone circuits are not in the game at all, which could render the game useless for players who mainly focus on redstone contraptions. The nether is also missing from the pocket edition which also means no potions, or terrifying nether gameplay. Farming does exist, and animal breeding which makes creating a long term base plans more feasible. However Minecraft PE does have a couple of blocks which are unique like the stonecutter which is used to craft blocks like steps, slabs, and polished granite. The crafting UI doesn't require users to memorize recipes, instead the game will list all possible recipes given the users inventory, and this makes crafting on a touch screen easy and fast.
Performance was excellent on all the devices, even the Lumia 520. This was the biggest surprise about the game because the full version can be a serious resource hog. Generating worlds, running around, and interacting with mobs all happens very smoothly. However like all apps on Windows Phone, resuming Minecraft PE will take a few seconds to resume after another app is switch then back, but when it does resume the game picks up right where it left off.
While playing Minecraft on a phone is a blast, it can be much more difficult to fully control with a touch screen. Multiple times I found myself wishing I could run and jump or be more accurate when trying to avoid zombies or creepers. Killing hostile mobs was difficult because fumbling with controls was enough to die several times while trying to flee. This is a point where Windows Phone needs external control support to keep advanced games interested in the platform.
Minecraft Pocket Edition has been on Android and iOS for some time now, so the lack of Xbox Live support on the Windows Phone app was not a surprise. In fact the game offers no achievements of any kind, which are in the desktop game and could easily be tied into Xbox Live. Nonetheless Mojang (which is now owned by Microsoft) has released a very popular game which runs very well and is a lot of fun to play. Personally I would like to see Xbox Live integration but this is hardly a deal breaker.
With Minecraft a big part of the game involves playing with others. On the desktop game it is easy and simple to play with friends over a LAN, and with Minecraft PE it is easy to play with friends. To do all users need to do is be on the same WiFi and the game should pop up in the list of available worlds. If there is no WiFi available then one users just needs to turn on internet sharing to create a WiFi hotspot which the other players can connect to. The world is saved on the phone of the player who started the world, so users who join and play on it won't have access if the owner of the world is not near by.
Finally, considering the price Minecraft Pocket Edition is $6.99, by most accounts this is an expensive app. The app is not available as a modern app on Windows, which means $6.99 is only buying a phone app because today the app is not universal, but concerning recent news of Windows Phone apps running on the desktop in Windows 10, this would be a welcome addition. The bottom line when considering buying this game is whether you will have time to be sucked into the world of Minecraft, and if that is you then this app is a resounding buy. Although, if you are not a fan of Minecraft or free open world RPGs then this version will not change your mind.