While it's a fairly common trend for Nintendo games to be focused around the gameplay first and foremost, there are other games that go in a completely different direction. Some aren't so much about the gameplay as they are about the story or the experience, and while this is certainly different from a conventional video game, it's not necessarily worse because of it. Minecraft: Story Mode - Episode 1: The Order of the Stone is one such title, trading gameplay for a rich story that has an appeal all its own.
Telltale Games is known for creating story driven experiences and the 'gameplay' of its releases is often more akin to a choose your own adventure novel. The game is effectively an extended that lasts a little over an hour, with interactive aspects and quick time events scattered throughout to keep things interesting. For example, a character could ask your opinion on something and you're given four potential dialogue options with only a few seconds to choose one.
Though not everyone will appreciate being rushed into things it keeps the game moving at a brisk pace and makes it feel pseudo-realistic, in a sense, as real life doesn't always wait for you to mull over every outcome. Additionally, there are some scenes that are rather like a point and click game, where your character can be freely controlled in a limited space and examine environmental objects. It can be somewhat irritating moving a cursor around with the right analogue stick, but this can be easily alleviated by just tapping the object on the GamePad screen, which mirrors the TV.
Gameplay may be fairly limited, but the story more than picks up the slack and Telltale has made sure that its characters are all well written and likable to some extent. The story primarily follows the main character, Jesse, a dorky individual who is something of a social outcast, along with his two best friends, Olivia and Axel. What begins as a trip to the annual EnderCon competition quickly spirals out of control and sees our heroes and their companion pig, Reuben, set out on a quest to find the lost members of the Order of the Stone and save the world.
The plot may be fairly predictable and some of the jokes seem a little forced, but the excellent voice acting adds additional dimension to the characters and makes them all the more realistic. If there's one thing it does an exceptional job of, it's introducing us to the primary characters that will be starring in this five part quest, and giving them plenty of attention. Though Jesse may be an 'unlikely hero' that we've seen in so many stories before, the sensation of watching him mature over time is still satisfying and positive. Friends become foes, and vice versa, and there are a plenty of open ended questions being left open for an answer in a later episode. It ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, and the story closes the curtains at a nice break in the action and sets up the next episode quite well.
The animation quality is surprisingly top notch, too; one wouldn't think that so many facial expressions could be coaxed from such a blocky visage, but the variety is really quite pleasant. Unfortunately, the game doesn't always hold a steady framerate, and while it generally just dips when a story branch is reached, it still is enough to occasionally pull one out of the experience. It's like the equivalent of a video buffering - usually not enough to ruin the content, but just enough to be irritating.
All told, Minecraft: Story Mode is a wild ride from start to finish, telling a riveting tale filled with plot twists and interesting characters. That being said, not everyone will be impressed with the fact that it's essentially an interactive movie. If you're the type of gamer who skips cutscenes and prefers satisfying gameplay, steer clear and look elsewhere for your gaming fix. If you're the type of gamer who appreciates listening to a good story (and don't mind stumping up the cash to hear the whole thing), then we would highly recommend this. Minecraft: Story Mode does an excellent job of breathing life into the somewhat anonymous world of Minecraft; this is one tale you'll want to hear.