This June, Microsoft’s Mojang is launching “Minecraft Battle” – a free new update for the console versions of “Minecraft” that pits players against each other in a last-man-standing deathmatch.
I got to play a preview of “Minecraft Battle” for the Xbox One – though it’s also coming to the Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3/4 and Nintendo Wii U. It supports local multiplayer on the same console, as well as online play.
And I have to tell you: “Battle” is a lot of fun, even if it circumvents some of the building block fun that made “Minecraft” such a massive phenomenon in the first place.
And did I mention it’s free?
“Battle” is a lot like the kind of fights-to-the-death matches that kids like my nephews already hold in “Minecraft.” The big difference is that now there are rules and the game is keeping score.
A “Minecraft Battle” match begins in the center of a pre-built, custom-made arena, with all the other players (up to 8 total) in plain sight, and your inventory completely empty. It’s like the scene where Katniss enters the Hunger Games.
You get a few precious seconds of invulnerability at the top of each match. The best strategy is to use that time to grab the randomly-generated supplies from the conveniently-located chests near the spawn point, and then run the heck away while you figure out your next move.
There’s a little bit of luck here, though: The person who managed to scrape up a sword from those treasure chests will almost always have an advantage over the poor schmoe who only got a few apples and a potion of swiftness.
The battles themselves play out like “Minecraft” classic, with your sword, shields, health, and armor all working the exact same way you’d expect. If you defeat someone, you can take their items. If you’re the last person still alive, you win.
The disappointing part of all of this is that you can’t interact with the maps themselves at all. In regular “Minecraft,” you can destroy and remake the terrain to your own whim. But in “Battle,” the world is invulnerable and unable to be modified.
It’s probably to keep things fair, but it’s a little disappointing that you can’t build your own little fortress to keep other players out, especially since that’s the only way I could probably avoid meeting my fate when I’m playing my nephews. Still, I really enjoyed my time with the game.
The base “Minecraft Battle” add-on comes with three maps, with developer Mojang selling additional packs of three for $2.99 a pop. The promise is also that they’ll keep it updated with new features and gameplay tweaks.
Mojang also promises that “Battle” is the first of many so-called “mini-games” for “Minecraft” that tweak the game in slight ways. If they’re all as fun (and as free) as “Battle,” Microsoft could be on to something.