Atomp (P)Reviews: Minecraft Pocket Edition [Mojang]

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My Minecraft review stretched over two weeks and I have still not fully covered the full extent of this indie powerhouse. Minecraft Pocket Edition has been available for some time however up until recently it has been severely limited and a couple of versions behind the PC variation at least. This was true to the extent of having very limited map generation; to the point of an invisible wall around a limited world, limited biomes, no caves and more. This has not stopped it from exploding in popularity and comfortably sitting in the top sellers of the Play Store consistently, with over 21 million sales as of April 2014. I played it briefly during the earlier development period and was thoroughly unimpressed as the lack of larger worlds and caves stripped any of the exploration from the game, which for me is fairly key. Recently however Minecraft Pocket Edition has begun to introduce some fairly key features from the PC version, which has tempted me to dive back into this potential portable time sink just to see how far it’s come and whether its playable for someone used to hundreds of hours on the PC variant.

First of all world creation has been improved vastly. Whilst the limited world option is still available for underpowered devices, there is now the option for an infinite world with a wide selection of biomes pulled from the PC version of the game. This means that rather than having a small grassy box with a handful of trees in your pocket you can now have a whole, fleshed out and varied Minecraft world in your pocket. For me this makes the difference between a 5 minute try-and-drop and a game that I actually want to play and come back to. Whilst not all of the biomes are implemented, there are certainly enough to provide variety when exploring and tracking down a decent spot to plant that massive stone brick castle.
Unlike the PC version the pocket edition does not implement hunger, instead having recover health like in older PC releases. This is not a significant change and whilst it would be nice to have the hunger implemented the old health-recovery system worked very well for a long time on the PC and does so quite adequately here. Food variety is good with a selection of growable and huntable food types with varying effectiveness at healing. Sure with this method a small wheat farm will provide adequate bread to live and heal easily but that’s where a little role-playing is necessary. Other more advanced features such as potion brewing are still missing which probably puts this on par with later Beta releases of the PC version, with the occasional snippet of newer features. The core gameplay is in place by this point with, further additions pushing the game further into the 1.0 release features of the PC version. I can easily imagine emulating my first experiences in the PC version in pocket edition with ease and the occasional new little snippet of newer feature. This is great news as it opens up the game to whole new potential with long distance journeys and exploration away from your huge multi-part fort with the massive artificial cavern housing an underground tree farm… at the very least. Another fairly key part of the Minecraft feature-list that would be crazy to ignore is the multiplayer element which can transform the game. Minecraft Pocket Edition does have multiplayer, with up to 10 player cross-platform LAN multiplayer and experimental Realms access. This is neat although not ideal, however from a convenience perspective it fits the mobile aim. It is plausible to create a hotspot on an Android device and have other devices to connect to this device allowing wireless LAN multiplayer without a router.
This leads onto the next big thing about Minecraft Pocket Edition, it runs on predominantly touchscreen portable devices. The touchscreen controls are fairly refined by this point and after a certain degree of acclimatisation I was able to use it fairly smoothly. Obviously I am far slower using them than proper keyboard and mouse controls but they are not at all bad for what they are. Controller support seems to be lacking on the whole although the recent Kindle Fire release has controller support so maybe that’ll be merged into the base Android release eventually, which might be nice as a DualShock 3 with bluetooth wouldn’t be a terrible way to play the game. Other than that the game is actually fairly good on the devices its built for. The transition from a clunky Java code base to a cleaner and more portable C++ base has meant that performance is pretty acceptable on smaller ARM chips. This is quite important as the performance overhead on that JavaVM layer is still quite significant on the PC, with the difference between a lower end x86 processor pushing the Java-based PC version and an equivalent powered ARM SoC running Minecraft Pocket Edition is quite dramatic. Generally the transition to the mobile platform has been somewhat slow as the game must be rebuilt from the bottom up however this is a continuing effort from Mojang, whom at this point must have enough money from sales to continue development with their current team almost indefinitely. This is promising and whilst I don’t think Minecraft Pocket Edition will ever be able to fully catch up to the PC version it will continue to gradually improve.
Aesthetically Minecraft Pocket Edition looks much like its PC counterpart, however it is somewhat brighter and more vibrant. In some cases the game also uses assets from older versions of the PC release, thus extending the sensation of playing a late beta release of the game which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This could well change as the game develops and I’m tempted to say that the game will continue to look and perform better to the point where it easily outdoes its PC cousin which will still be tied down by the Java layer. The cleaner code-base could well warrant more advantages as OpenGL will have direct access to the graphics processing hardware. I don’t have the most varied of test devices as both my Nexus 4 and LG V500 have almost identical Krait 300 CPUs (Nexus 4@1.5GHz, V500@1.7GHZ), Adreno 320 GPUs and 2GB of RAM. With that said on those specs and both devices the game runs admirably, although not at the absolute max spec which I’d imagine is intended for the chips in much newer and more expensive flagship devices like the HTC One M8 with its 2.26GHz quad-core CPU and Adreno 330. It should also be noted that both of these devices are rooted and running CyanogenMod 11 M9 (Android 4.4.4 base). This isn’t going to make a huge difference although in some cases manufacturer installed fluff could well slow down the device and therefore the game. It’s also available for something called iOS which seems to be some niche operating system for people that need very basic software and dislike choice, freedom and configurability.
Overall then I’d say that Minecraft Pocket Edition may actually have reached a point where it is a playable variant of the PC version, with some little changes along the way and a few improvements (especially on the backend). It’s currently £4.99 (approx $8.30) on Google Play and I’d say that it’s probably going to be worth that if you already know that you like Minecraft. Anything less than that, say on a sale or something and it is absolutely worth picking up.
Minecraft Pocket Edition on Google Play:
Minecraft Pocket Edition on the Amazon App Store:
Minecraft Pocket Edition on iOS:
[It’s probably on the godawful mess that is iTunes]

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