Release Date: July 27, 2011
Platform: XBLIG, Xbox 360
Price: 240 MSP (USD $3.00)
I admit I’m a little broken down on the craftalike front. Between Minecraft, Total Miner, FortressCraft, and the other countless voxel games seeping out of the walls, it’s tough to keep them straight. The reality is, they are all presented the same: You, the miner, pop out of a void into a procedurally-generated blocky world above the surface. Below, you mine for resources. Above, you build fantastic buildings with your newly mined Legos. Or, in creative modes, you get all the Legos already, and simply have to terraform the land to your liking. It’s a lovable formula, one that screams to be expanded further, and one that you can bet every craftalike game will follow faithfully.
CastleMiner is no exception. The game is a purely creative implementation of the craftalike genre, but unlike Total Miner and FortressCraft who went before on XBLIG, there is no apparent or implicit aspect of survival. CastleMiner draws its strength from an overwhelming number of blocks available for construction. But just like a Chinese take-out restaurant, just because you have 200 items on the menu doesn’t mean they’re any good.
The only “goal” aside from creativity in CastleMiner is a shallow set of achievements that let you unlock more of the myriad blocks. These achievements are fairly straightforward: “Play online with 1 friend,” “Play online with 2 friends”, “Play online with 5 friends”, etc. I know this is not anything new to XBLIG or to gaming in general, but it’s still amusing that the only method of advancement in CastleMiner is tantamount to a pyramid scheme.
Graphically, the game is complex, but presented poorly. High-resolution images on blocks are on-par with the FortressCraft assets, and the texturing is reasonable. However, at a distance, these textures look choppy and poorly-optimized. It is obvious that some extra time could have been spent optimizing the graphics engine, being that it’s the focal point of the game.
Anyone familiar with Minecraft or any of its descendants will know that just because it’s a block building game doesn’t mean it needs to be only blocks. Fences, for one, are a “block” that have different geometry, and give a little more depth to the game. Unfortunately for CastleMiner, their implementation of fences is just to put a texture on a block, again. This has the unfortunate side effect of showing the fence texture on the top face of the block, which makes any sort of fence you put down look awful. The same can be said for other non-block types like curtains or decorative windows.
There are also water blocks which are most disappointing. There is absolutely no water in CastleMiner. But there is a murky water block which would be useful for creating a pool or a little lake. However, you don’t sink into the water, you just walk on top of it. At the very least, CastleMiner gets points for innovation, as it’s the first craftalike on XBLIG that also functions as a Jesus Simulator.
In my quest to unlock blocks, I decided to put on my full-body condom and head into the world of XBLIG online co-op. After being quickly booted from my first several servers for simply placing one block (why do you make your server public then?), I found what looked like an excellent place to start my friendly co-op adventure. I was immediately brought back to the chaotic days of Minecraft public creative servers. I then remembered what made those experiences really tick: griefing. That’s really all there is to do in CastleMiner. After searching and searching for a purpose for CastleMiner, that’s the only place I could find to squeeze any juice out of the game. Unfortunately, everyone seems to know this, and online is simply a cesspool of block griefing. The long range of block placing and flying makes it incredibly easy to do. If you’re really hell-bent on getting all of the blocks, you’d better be prepared to drag your sorry avatar through the murky depths of grief-y Xbox Live matches.
In my experience, every Minecraft clone on the Xbox 360 is a deliberate cash-in, but at least the lot of them know that entertainment equals cash. CastleMiner skips this assumption and goes to “Minecraft clone equals cash”. Despite the fact that the entire genre, at least in a survival sense, can be described as an enormous grind, the structure of the game in CastleMiner makes it seem like even more of a grind then the rest of them.
For your money, there are currently better Minecraft clones on XBLIG that you could buy. If you’re enamored with a large and quirky list of blocks, then CastleMiner may be for you. If you would rather opt out of the take-out menu of blocks and go for any semblance of a real mining adventure, you would be well-advised to seek an alternative.