Minecraft is the biggest (paid) gaming sensation of the last decade, racking up more than 100 million downloads across platforms and still growing in popularity after several years. It’s hugely popular with young kids, has a vibrant fan community, and even is used in classrooms for educational purposes. And now you can play it on the Apple TV.

Released right before Christmas, Minecraft: Apple TV Edition is essentially a big-screen conversion of the Minecraft: Pocket Edition you might know well from iPhone and iPad. It’s not only the biggest game to hit the Apple TV to date, but also simultaneously the highest-profile game on the device to require a gamepad—you won’t be able to play with the Siri Remote. And that’s for the best, because it means that Minecraft isn’t diminished in this new incarnation.

Block by block

Minecraft on Apple TV offers essentially the same experience as Pocket Edition, which itself follows the same core tenets as the original Minecraft on Mac and PC: it’s all about little blocks. Like a modern-day digital take on LEGO, you’ll wield pixelated blocks of all sorts—dirt, sand, iron ore, and much more—in your charmingly jagged world. You can use them to build a house, a city, a detailed re-creation of the Millennium Falcon… or anything else, really.

You’ll also bash them to bits as you dig into the ground and mountains, exploring beneath the surface to mine all sorts of minerals. And then you’ll craft, of course, using the myriad blocks you’ve accumulated to build swords, shovels, pickaxes, fishing rods, and other tools to help you in the lo-fi wilds. As ever, Minecraft is about as loosely structured as a game can be. You’re dropped into a world with no tutorial, a minimal on-screen interface, and no objectives or storyline. It’s up to you to find meaning and fun in each randomly generated world you enter.

minecraft appletv wildlife
Be friendly with the blocky wildlife… or punch them until they turn into beef and leather.

Luckily, that’s not difficult: the allure of freeform, trial-and-error exploration reveals surprises and secrets along the way, especially as you learn the ropes in the Survival mode, and there’s real joy in forging your own adventure in the face of unexpected challenge. With vicious block monsters appearing every night, you’ll need to utilize the resources around you to build shelter, craft better tools, and ultimately find your way to the final realm, called The End.

Meanwhile, in Creative Mode, you have all of the tools, blocks, and resources ready in your arsenal, and you can even soar through the air—all of which allows you to build massive structures and create your own experiences along the way. And you can also connect to online servers for multiplayer in either mode, and play with fellow fan-made maps and makeshift minigames.

minecraft appletv christmas
The Apple TV Edition comes with a pretty cool bonus bundle of Christmas content right now, even if its immediate relevance has passed.

Playing Minecraft with a proper gamepad is so much better than using virtual buttons on your iPhone or iPad. While that’s adequate enough, there’s nothing quite like the steady, tactile sensation of feeling an analog stick and buttons under your thumbs, not to mention having an unencumbered view of the game on your TV. I’m using the SteelSeries Nimbus ($50), which is still the best of the bunch with Apple TV and iOS MFi gamepads, and Minecraft plays as well here as it does on other consoles and computers. While it’ll take a fairly sizable investment to start playing, it’s the only option that makes sense on the Apple TV: trying to comfortably squeeze all of the controls onto the limited Siri Remote seems an impossible task.

Double up?

Minecraft: Apple TV Edition is almost identical to Pocket Edition in nearly every respect. It has the same content as the recent 1.0 release of Pocket Edition, which also supports gamepads. However, the Apple TV Edition lacks a couple of features right now: support for Realms, the official service for setting up and running private Minecraft servers, as well the ability to sign into Xbox Live and add friends via the service. Both of those features are in development, which is great, but it’s no surprise that the Apple TV Edition’s $20 price tag is throwing some Pocket Edition owners for a loop.

minecraft appletv mining
Dig into the earth to find rare minerals. Ooh, redstone (and lava, too)!

While many purchased iOS games are then free to download on Apple TV, Minecraft: Apple TV Edition has its own $20 price tag that is separate from Pocket Edition’s paltry $7 charge. Seven bucks for Minecraft on your iPhone is a steal, while $20 for a home console version feels spot-on. However, given that you’re essentially getting a blown-up version of Pocket Edition, it seems strange that you’re asked to pay again, not to mention at a much higher price.

It’s a matter of Mojang and Microsoft following their usual playbook here, in which console versions of Minecraft cost $20, while Apple’s shared platform could allow for one purchase to cover iOS and Apple TV versions alike. But that’s their choice to make, and now it’s yours too. At least early buyers get a free add-on pack bundle that brings in a Christmas-themed environment, costumes, and other small digital goodies.

minecraft appletv online

Connect to online servers to play with friends or other random fans.

The Mac version is a bit more feature rich than this one (and is $27 by comparison), but playing on a TV with a gamepad is definitely preferable to using an iOS device. If you or your kids are still over the moon about Minecraft—or haven’t played and think it could be up your alley—then this may be $20 very well spent. Minecraft is infinitely replayable and Mojang keeps expanding its feature set, while online servers offer further modes and experiences. On the other hand, if you have Pocket Edition and are either perfectly content with it or don’t play much anymore, then there’s little point in buying the same game again at three times the cost.

Bottom line

Minecraft shines on the Apple TV, as playing on a big screen with a comfortable controller is even more alluring than playing on your iPhone or iPad—and it’s about on par with the Mac version in terms of overall experience. However, the price discrepancy with the Pocket Edition and need to buy this version separately may throw some fans for a loop.

Minecraft Apple TV Edition review: Block building on the big screen