A Block and a Hard Place, Episode 4 of Minecraft: Story Mode, is another middling chapter in Telltale’s kid-friendly Minecraft tale. Its attention to Minecraft detail and satisfying, action-packed climax keep it from being a complete bust, but these highs aren’t enough to overcome the rest of the episode’s predictable plot twists, inconsequential story, and often uninteresting dialogue.
This dichotomy is encapsulated in Episode 4’s first major event: a quest in which Jesse and his posse have to travel to the “Far Lands” to retrieve a MacGuffin that will hopefully allow them to defeat the Wither Storm and save the world. The Far Lands are a real Minecraft concept – if you can manage to reach the edge of the (nearly) infinite map, Minecraft can glitch out and strange things can be seen. It’s a cute and clever to see this fabled place discussed and eventually explored by a group of people that actually live in this world. And as usual, the set itself is massive and detailed.
Unfortunately, this is an example of real dialogue experienced while making the long and arduous journey: “Is it much further?” “Not too much further.”
Riveting stuff, I know.
In addition to often feeling flat and uninteresting, the dialogue commonly succumbs to cliche. “How long have you been standing there?” One character is asked when walking in on the second half of an incriminating conversation. “Long enough,” is (of course) the reply.
A Block and a Hard Place continues Story Mode’s emphasis on the past, to mixed results. Its explorations of themes like the dangers of hero worship and how ego or hubris can ruin friendships is well done, and a welcome bit of thoughtfulness in an otherwise fairly light story. But in practical terms, this means Story Mode spends a whole lot of time focusing on characters and conflicts that aren’t directly related to Jesse, instead focusing on the legendary heroes The Order of the Stone. This puts us in the back seat, often taking a passive role in the drama.
Thankfully, the final showdown manages to satisfy on multiple levels. The victory for Jesse and company feels well earned – they come up with a plan, and execute on it via fun, and occasionally actually challenging, QTE button-prompts. By the end, it genuinely feels like this group of heroes really is a group of heroes, even though they started Episode 1 as a bunch of goofballs. The entire sequence is also well-directed and acted. It’s a satisfying end to Story Mode’s overarching threat.
Unfortunately the iffy storytelling returns to the forefront as the episode draws to a close. Multiple story threads that have spanned the entire series are wrapped up off-screen thanks to a small time jump. Amnesia? Gone. A friend’s life-threatening illness Jesse kept promising he would fix? It fixes itself. This neat wrap-up is especially disappointing because, like Story Mode’s other episodes, the adventure is fairly short at around an hour and 45 minutes.
As for what’s next… well that’s the big question, isn’t it? We know a fifth episode is coming, but A Block and a Hard Place ends the current story arc. We’ll have to wait and see what this means for our motley crew, and for Story Mode’s potential long-term future.