When Microsoft acquired Mojang, the maker of Minecraft, in 2014, we all feared the worst: a zillion cash-in video games. Turns out, Microsoft has been really smart about its Minecraft output in the past five years. Only one Minecraft-related game has launched since then (2015’s solid Minecraft Story Mode), and 2020’s Minecraft Dungeons felt ridiculously good to play at this year’s E3. (Plus, Mojang has been allowed to keep polishing the original game on every console and smartphone in the world, instead of turning into an Xbox-only studio. Whew.)
Thus, it wasn’t necessarily inevitable that Minecraft would get a clone to compete with every major gaming genre (no Super Steve Bros., no Minecraft Kart Racers). That got our hopes up for Minecraft Earth, Microsoft’s first salvo in the “augmented reality on phones” war, which was unveiled in May of this year. It sure seemed like a clever move: take Minecraft’s go-anywhere, punch-any-tree, build-anything philosophy, then dump it into the real world à la Pokemon Go.
After five days with the game’s closed beta (which launched seconds ago as a closed, invite-only beta in the Seattle area), I must report that the game’s early version is missing the series’ magic—and Mojang is going to need to put some more pixelated blocks into place before calling this one a victory.