So, let’s get the obvious gag out of the way: Microsoft has a better PlayStation Vita lineup than Sony this year. Following the Redmond-based organisation’s somewhat unexpected acquisition of Mojang last month, it was touch and go for all of a few minutes whether Minecraft: PS Vita Edition would ever release at all. Fortunately, it turns out that the console war isn’t fought with golden pickaxes and diamond swords – and so Steve, the least imaginitive video game protagonist of all time, has trotted onto Sony’s handheld on the back of an unimpressed pig.
This port is significant for one fundamental reason: it’s portable Minecraft with very little compromise. While the Pocket Edition of the property has proved popular on smartphones and tablets, only the ill-fated Xperia Play managed to provide the product with the physical inputs that the title so richly deserves. The control set-up’s more or less what you’d expect here, then: the twin analogue sticks handle movement and camera direction, while the shoulder buttons allow you to punch and place bricks.
The pocketable platform’s touchscreen isn’t neglected either, allowing you to toggle between items on your hot bar, as well as control menu screens. This works just fine, but the d-pad is also supported if you’re not keen on leaving smears all over your system’s delicious display. Still, the inventory could have used a few more months in the furnace, as the cursor format feels like a late 90s user interface nightmare, which really should have been left behind. This editor also found the miniscule text taxing on his ageing eyes.
Look beyond these minor irritations, though, and what you have is a bit of a miniature masterpiece. Markus ‘Notch’ Persson’s billion dollar blockbuster remains very much at its brilliant best here, tempting you in with its crude art style and leisurely gameplay loop. There are objectives for you to fulfil, but the title never rams these down your throat, instead encouraging you to discover rather than do as you’re told. It’s a daunting prospect, but a thorough tutorial will get you up to speed – and good old fashioned trial and error will see you figure out the rest.
The only limit on your abilities arrives at night, when the sun kissed scenery is swapped for something a little more sinister; you’ll need to fashion shelters out of squares, which will keep you safe from the nasties that lurk in the evening. While you can switch to a pure creative mode if you prefer, though, this constant sense of danger gives the game just enough focus to make its crafting shine; you’ll start out with the bare essentials, but will eventually exchange elbow grease for an empire – the hard work that you’ve invested making your visible success all the more satisfying.
And you can share that gratification with others, be it locally or online. The game supports up to four folk in ad-hoc multiplayer mode, with eight able to join over the PlayStation Network. There’s also the option to transfer your progress back and forth between the PlayStation 3, but if you want to port your world to the PlayStation 4, it’s a one-way journey only we’re afraid. This is because the next-gen version employs even bigger landscapes than are found in the portable product – but it’s not like you’re going to be rubbing shoulders with invisible walls all of the time.
In fact, the only real downside here is the technical performance, as it’s obvious that the title’s pushing the Vita to its uppermost limits; don’t let the rudimentary visuals fool you, because this will drain your handheld’s battery faster than you can imagine. The frame rate’s also far from perfect, sinking way below an acceptable level when the action’s particularly hectic. It’s a negative, for sure, but given the nature of the gameplay, it’s not necessarily an enormous issue – after all, a creeper’s not going to kill you because of a momentary lapse in input precision.
Minecraft: PS Vita Edition is a match forged in heaven, even if it isn’t angelic all of the time. A few minor interface issues and framerate fluctuations threaten to bring this portable port crashing down, but Mojang’s moreish gameplay loop provides the release with strong enough foundations to keep it standing tall. An uncompromising edition of a modern classic, this is an essential addition to your handheld library.