There’s an old Coen Brothers film called The Hudsucker Proxy, in which a guy dreams up a simple little toy that he repeatedly explains is, “You know, for kids!” And that’s precisely what could be said about the new Minecraft Dungeons: It’s a dungeon crawler/brawler video game … for kids!
What exactly does that mean?
Well, it means that everything here has been boiled down to its battling basics. There are no class structures to worry over, no complicated tactics to learn and no gory goop to virtually splash around. If the original Minecraft game was all about building things in a blocky, destructible world, Minecraft Dungeons is all about finding loot while besting a rush of blocky, destructible foes.
There’s a story here, but it’s been boiled down to its charming basics, too. It seems there is an evil Illager who was once … not so evil. But he was harshly rejected by the denizens of his blocky Minecraft land. So he wandered the world until he found a secreted-away dungeon that held something called the Orb of Dominance. That ancient artifact gave this put-upon guy the power to become the Arch-Illager and unleash his ire on the world.
The blocky townspeople now wish they had been just a wee bit nicer. But it’s too late. As the Arch-Illager unleashes his wrath—destroying towns, humbling the masses and spreading his reign of magical terror—there’s now a great need for a square-noggined hero to step forward … a blocky girl or guy like you.
The campaign itself is a series of missions that pop up on a map of the land. The missions have various difficulty levels: The higher the difficulty, the better the loot. Once you finish the game on the standard settings you get the option of playing again on a harder setting—once again increasing the quality of loot found in treasure chests and dropped by foes.
Are you getting the “loot is king” vibe here? That’s the key. Players battle scores and scores of onrushing skeletons, creepers, zombies and magicians as they, in turn, upgrade their character, pick up better weapons and make their way to a final showdown with that Arch-Illager baddie.
The game can be played solo, with up to four local friends or in an online multiplayer mode. And even though there are no character classes to deal with here, there are still a number of ways you can shape your character and the crew you’re working with.
Each character has one slot for a melee weapon, one slot for a ranged weapon, one slot for armor and three slots for artifacts that offer a variety of magical abilities. Players are rewarded with an enchantment point every time they level up, and those points are then used to choose from a selection of special effects for your weapons or armor.
For instance, if you want your sword to slash with some flaming damage, or to coax fallen enemies to drop more gems and loot, you can make that choice. Choose your gear, choose your enchantment, and build out your characters to your, uh, choosing. And later, when your older bow or armor or spear becomes obsolete, you can salvage it and still be able to retrieve some enchantment points for future use.
That’s pretty much all there is here to sort through here. And that makes things fairly straightforward for kids of any age to grasp and understand. Of course, that doesn’t mean this game is easy. With each mission, players face a flood of baddies to vanquish. Sometimes they’ll come rushing at you from a nearby enclave, or they might magically appear around you when you open that fine-looking chest just sitting there in a clearing.
You have to manage your slowly refilling healing potion and your quickly diminishing supply of arrows. You must figure out how to keep the crowds of foes from overwhelming you. Knowing when to roll, when to jump, when to run away—these are all important parts of the game’s strategy challenge.
There’s nothing nasty or foul here. The constant battling is underscored by ughs and other cries of pain, but there’s no blood. The fallen simply collapse and poof away. And even the monsters themselves aren’t really all that threatening in their blocky Minecraft form.
All that said, this is a game pretty solely focused on battling foes. Again, there’s no building in this Minecraft title, just brawling and loot gathering. It’s definitely, you know, for kids, but it’s hack and slash for kids. And Mom will have to decide if that fits comfortably in her goodly kingdom.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.