Note: This review is for the Nintendo Switch Edition of the game which has since been discontinued and replaced with the more recent version (simply called Minecraft). This update uses the Bedrock engine and supports crossplay and cross-purchases with other platforms. Please bear in mind that while the text below gives a good idea of the Minecraft experience on Switch, it may not reflect every feature from the update.
Minecraft is a game that needs no introduction; the quirky block building game has been a pop culture sensation for many years now, and has a port available on just about every modern platform one can name. Given the existence of Minecraft: Wii U Edition and the hybrid nature of the Switch, it was only a matter of time before Nintendo’s latest hardware received its own port of the classic. The big question is this: does Minecraft for the Switch make the game worth buying again? The answer is a resounding yes - the versatile nature of the Switch makes this an absolute must-buy.
If you’re one of the few who are looking for an explanation of exactly what Minecraft is, check out our review of the Wii U version, as this review will focus on what makes the Switch version stand apart. In a nutshell, Minecraft is a completely open-ended sandbox adventure game that allows you to either build whatever structures and projects you want out of an unlimited number of blocky materials, or to do your best to survive in a world that has a much more restricted amount of materials and rules. Either way you cut it, it can be quite dangerous starting a world in either mode, as it’s quite easy to get sucked into the charms of Minecraft and lose several hours to yet another lengthy session.
Controls exemplify the standard fare for all the console versions by now, and they find intuitive and simple solutions to solve the problem of not having a keyboard and mouse. Inventory screens and menus are simple to navigate, and while you can’t rebind every button to a different action, you’re given several good control alternatives if the default isn’t to your liking. Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition doesn’t support single Joy-Con play, so if you want to play with a friend they’ll need a full controller, but this doesn’t take away too much from the fun that can be had in playing with others. Minecraft will always be a game that’s made for the keyboard and mouse, but the controller set-up sufficiently manages to cover all the bases and deliver a satisfying experience.
Of course, Minecraft is a game that’s often best enjoyed with others, and both online and offline multiplayer are supported here, with up to four players allowed locally and eight players online. We didn’t get to test the game with four people, but adding another player locally did nothing to noticeably slow down the experience — docked or undocked — and it seems this holds true even if you add in a couple more players. The reduced real estate of the Switch screen obviously makes local multiplayer less than ideal when on the go, but make no mistake, it is fully functional if you choose to go that route.
Another point worth mentioning is that the online mode does not allow for in-game audio chat as of the time of writing. This is likely due to Nintendo not having its online service fully ready for the Switch yet, but it still is something to consider if you intend to be playing online with some friends. As is currently the case with Switch gaming you'll need to use your phones, tablets or computers - perhaps with one of the various free non-Nintendo apps out there - if you want to chat online while playing.
What’s immediately striking about Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition is the level at which the game performs; it does pretty well as a home console port and absolutely incredibly as a portable version. Extensive play in both docked and undocked mode never once - in our experience - saw the framerate take any noticeable dip below 60fps, and the draw distance seems to be about the same as the Wii U version when docked. When undocked, this is expectedly reduced a bit to compensate for the drop in power, but it never gets to the point that things feel too claustrophobic. It may be that graphically superior versions exist on other platforms, but the Switch performs admirably in both modes and the world sizes of 3072 x 3072 leave you plenty of room for creativity and adventure.
As for replayability, there’s a decent amount to get into here. Survival mode has a whole suite of in-game achievements now, which unlock for completing various tasks such as entering the nether for the first time or building a minecart track of a certain length. This helps to give survival mode a bit more content and structure, as you now have certain goals to work towards. There are also two additional competitive multiplayer modes that flesh out the gameplay even more. Battle sees a set number of players dropped into an arena with limited supplies in a fight to the death, and Tumble is an official version of the fan-game “Spleef”, in which players are dropped into an arena and the goal is to break the blocks beneath your opponents’ feet and drop them into a lava pit. Both modes mix it up enough that they stand as worthy additions to the whole package, and they also allow for local and online multiplayer.
Something that cannot be hammered home enough is how the hybrid nature of the Switch gives this game a whole new draw. Being able to play a full-fledged console Minecraft game is nothing new, but being able to then take that version with you anywhere you go with next to no difference in the game’s quality is a big deal. This is the best portable version of the game available by far in our opinion (unless you care to lug around a laptop), and the ease of use between the docked and undocked versions makes it difficult to go back to other versions of Minecraft, as they feel more restricted in some ways.
All told, this is yet another excellent port of Minecraft, nothing more and nothing less. With that being said, we would strongly recommend that you pick up this version, as the versatile setup of the Switch allows this to be the most easily accessible and playable Minecraft to date. That convenience factor is the only real notable difference, however, so it’s up to you whether that justifies paying for another version of Minecraft. If you want to play the best portable version of the game, however, look no further.