Release Date: November 9, 2011
Platform: XBLIG, Xbox 360
Price: 240 MSP ($3)
By now it’s apparent to most gamers on Xbox Live that the Indie Games channel is a modern-day Tin Pan Alley, buzzing with the frantic static of developers iterating and reiterating worn gaming concepts. Extra Guy has followed this phenomenon down the dim side street of Craftalikes, our term for games that look, play, feel, and even sound like Minecraft. It’s an exciting channel, full of potential, that often disappoints us with its rather uninspired brand of coyly-similar-to-Minecraft titles that add little or nothing to the concept. In a sense, Minecraft’s unpredictable success has been detrimental to future development of its own genre, as developers see money and not blocks in their eyes when they look upon what Notch and Mojang have made with cubes.
Nevertheless, it was only a matter of time before someone came along on the XBLIG channel and added something you couldn’t get just playing Minecraft. And while a plethora of Extra Guy commenters pointed out that a lack of Minecraft on 360 makes these clones permissible, I feel that the true test of worth in the 360 Craftalike genre is a game that encourages you to stop playing Minecraft, and start playing a new game.
CastleMiner Z is the closest thing yet to this proof. The game is very similar to the original CastleMiner, but it is mashed up with zombie survival. It is truly a game with features that you can’t find in vanilla Minecraft. And for that, it’s already excelled in light of its siblings.
I will spare you the details about the game that are already in the original CastleMiner, and we’ll skip right to the differences. The game is a nonstop series of zombie waves, including run-of-the-mill chew-your-face zombies, as well as skeleton archers. It’s a lot of fun to use knives and guns to take out your zombie assailants, but it’s also easy to just dig a hidey-hole and stay there indefinitely. So CastleMiner Z puts a little scorecard on your screen with your total distance traveled. So the object of the game is to go the distance. To where? We don’t yet know.
So you get up and go, trying desperately to outrun vicious zombies until you can get to the next hidey-hole, where you can wait for sunrise and proceed with a lower volume of zombies pursuing you. As you get further from home you notice the terrain changes. First you get to desert lands, then into icy tundra and unforgiving mountains, then finally to a barren, Mordor-esque land full of lava and “bloodstone” (this terrain is also deep underneath the other biomes). Each new type of terrain presents its own challenges to survival.
Unfortunately, the only thing you get from going the distance in CastleMiner Z is the satisfaction. That, and an achievement, which I’m told and non-transferrable and have no cash value. So essentially, when all the zombie-slaying excitement dissipates, you’re not left with much reward for your troubles.
The game is not a paragon of excellent performance or aesthetic. The distance meter only works on one axis, so running in the wrong direction will never increase your score. The zombie sound is terrible and not terrifying, and sounds more like a shop-vac wrestling a chicken. The game modes could have easily been tacked on to the original CastleMiner as DLC, instead of being a sovereign title. In fact, there are a good number of faults that you could find with CastleMiner Z. But for the sake of the development community, allow me foremostly to commend CastleMiner Z on taking a new tack with the genre, even if it is a mashup with the most popular and overdone theme on XBLIG, zombies.
In my conversations with Extra Guy Anthony and with Extra Guy readers around the world, the exceedingly creative Ace Of Spades always comes up as an example of doing something constructive within the genre. CastleMiner Z actually takes some of these elements and applies them to the genre, and for that, I would like to peg CastleMiner Z as a thought-leader in the Craftalike-on-XBLIG world. It certainly isn’t a monumental gaming experience, but for XBLIG, it’s a step in the right direction.