How can you tell that I'm old?
The answer: I can't stand playing most 3D games on a touchscreen for very long. I love playing “Minecraft,” Microsoft's smash-hit block-building game, on my iPhone with my nephews, but the control feels weird and unnatural to my withered 30-year-old hands. I could play it on PC, naturally, but then I lose the portability.
This is why I was so eager to try “Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition,” the $30 version of the game for the new Nintendo Switch console. I thought, perhaps, this version would strike the perfect compromise:
Because the Switch is a TV games console, it uses a traditional joystick setup, the kind I'm very accustomed to. And because you can detach the Switch from the TV, I can take it on the go.
Well, the game met my expectations, and actually exceeded them. And in so doing, it shows off what's so great about both “Minecraft,” and about the Nintendo Switch itself.
Mining and crafting
The actual experience of playing “Minecraft” is exactly the same here as it is on other versions.
In Survival Mode, you begin alone and unarmed, and are challenged to craft tools and weapons in a blocky, charmingly pixelated world. In Creative Mode, you're freed from the shackles of responsibility, and can zip around the world using the game's amazingly intuitive interface to build massive structures limited by your imagination.
This version's sole twist is a Nintendo-exclusive “Mario Mash-Up Pack,” which optionally lets you play as various Super Mario characters, while also giving a Mario-style makeover to the game's items, buildings, and enemies. If you happened to play the Wii U version of “Minecraft,” it's the exact same here as it was there.
It's a fun addition, but not game-changing (so to speak). If you've ever played “Minecraft” before, and you should, you know what you're getting. One thing I would note is that the game's graphics get just a little worse when the console is in its portable mode, with the distance you can see noticeably diminished. That's a quibble, though.
Playing with power
The real beauty of this version of “Minecraft” comes in the unique stuff that the Switch brings to the table.
Again, I can't get used to touchscreen controls. So having a portable version that supports the Switch's trademark Joy-Con controllers, thumbsticks and all, was a welcome blessing. I found myself playing the game more, and for longer sessions, than I had with other versions of “Minecraft.”
My absolute favorite moment with the game, however, came when I showed it to my nephews. Like the Xbox and PlayStation versions of the game, “Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition” supports a split-screen multiplayer with up to four players, so long as the console is plugged into the TV.
When the Switch isn't plugged into the TV, though, you still keep the power to have two local players. It meant that my nephews could play with each other sitting at the coffee table, while a movie played on the TV. They love “Minecraft;” they love playing “Minecraft” with each other, and they were totally into this idea.
The caveat is that “Minecraft: Switch Edition” doesn't support the Switch's nifty method for turning one of its Joy-Con controllers into two, meaning you'll need a full two controllers to take advantage. That part is a bummer.
Still, to me, it proves two things. First, Nintendo's boasts of the Switch as a social console are well-deserved. Whether it's attached to the TV, or in your backpack on a trip, the Switch really does let you have fun solo or with friends.
Second, “Minecraft” is really an extraordinary game. It's incredibly flexible, and is equally as fun on phones, consoles, and PCs. It's no wonder that the game has had such staying power when it's so easy to get started everywhere the game plays. And when Switch players of “Minecraft” get the ability to join their Xbox brethren later this year, you can expect the fun to get cranked up to 11.