Article first published as PlayStation 4 Review: ‘Minecraft: Story Mode – Episode 4: A Block and a Hard Place’ on Blogcritics.
Adventure games specialists, TellTale Games has released the penultimate episode in its Minecraft: Story Mode series, Episode 4: A Block and a Hard Place. It is also the final episode of the licensed series to be released this calendar year. With Minecraft: Story Mode, the developer has done a number of things to switch up their episodic adventure game formula. From a physical media release prior to the completion of the five-part series, to wrapping up a primary conflict, before the final episode, and a drastically accelerated publishing schedule, TellTale’s latest effort marks a significant change in their strategy.
The formula changes with Minecraft: Story Mode aren’t the only new developments with TellTale Games. At The Game Awards on December 3, 2015, the developer revealed that they are working on a Batman series of adventure games, to go along with the earlier announced The Walking Dead: Michonne mini-series. This is good news for TellTale’s adult fans, though there is already increasing competition in the point-and-click adventure game space. While I’ve been critical of the company’s lack of originality with their storytelling, catering to their licensed franchise might very well be their most prudent business strategy.
Despite an all-star voice cast, Minecraft: Story Mode is really geared for a small demographic. It’s Holiday release has ensured respectable sales, but there really aren’t many that will be all that happy with the overall package. Episode 4: A Block and a Hard Place really drives home the fact that there’s barely a story at all for the Story Mode series. The narrative revolves almost entirely around showing off various Minecraft environments and other assets from the original game. Though Story Mode makes a half-hearted stab at offering some emotional weight, it’s often relegated to the background. The episode’s entire story seems to work off of a checklist, with an ending that could easily serve as the whole Story Mode series finale.
Episode 4 does actually manage to squeeze in a fair amount of puzzle solving, most of it by the way of crafting. Unfortunately, there is also an extremely tedious maze segment, that does its absolute best to suck every bit of the fun there is, out of the episode. That is a perfect example of why I wonder, how many kids will even enjoy this Minecraft adventure. To me, the whole concept of TellTale’s formula runs contrary to what Minecraft is all about, and from my experience, the kids that love building new worlds in Minecraft, aren’t the people that like watching a video game. Though Episode 4 is somewhat of an exception, TellTale’s offerings are almost entirely made up of cutscenes peppered with occasional dialogue wheels, quick-time events.
Telltale has built a reputation on storytelling, and refer to their games as “interactive storytelling,” but the Minecraft: Story Mode series, and Episode 4, in particular, are their poorest examples yet. Their return to The Walking Dead, and upcoming Batman series have a lot of people excited, but until then, those looking for an adventure game with a compelling narrative should look elsewhere. Both TellTale’s back catalog, and many of the new adventure games that have just hit the market will probably offer a more satisfying experience. Luckily, if you played Episode 3, your Episode 4 and 5 are already paid for. The Minecraft: Story Mode series finale should be available in January 2016.