Welcome to our review of Minecraft Dungeons, a Minecraft spin-off dungeon exploration game.
This is an action game that borrows the world view and isometric perspective from Minecraft proper. There’s local co-op for up to four players on stages that are generated semi-automatically over and over again.
In terms of genre classification, this follows the lineage of hack-and-slash or dungeon crawler games like Gauntlet and Diablo.
Minecraft Dungeons is available on Windows PC, Xbox, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.
The standard edition is reasonably priced at 2,640 yen (tax incl.), while subscribers to the Xbox Game Pass service can play it on Windows and Xbox One without any additional charge.
(Note: Cross-platform co-op play is not supported at launch. However, this will be added in a free update. Check out the details below. )
Gallery: Minecraft Dungeons (マインクラフト ダンジョンズ) | of 15 Photos
Conclusions after basically finishing the game on single- and multi-player modes:
Addictive action, easy to pick and play whether solo or in a group
While there’s no mining or craft (despite being a Minecraft title), it’s a pleasant, stress-free play experience without any hassle in terms of controls and leveling up
There’s an enjoyable blend of action and hack-and-slash with weapon and item drops
Could become a new go-to title for quick co-op action Cross-platform play is on the way!
Feels like a real Minecraft game even without the mining ...or the craft
Minecraft Dungeons is the latest title from Mojang, developer of the original Minecraft. These days, Mojang has offices all over the world. In fact, the company has become Mojang Studios and it has a catalog of different games to its name. Minecraft Dungeons is interesting because it’s a project that comes from the original Minecraft development team’s desire to play a game like this one, but set in the Minecraft world.
Obviously its roots are in the Minecraft series, but this new entry isn’t another take on Minecraft itself. Instead, what we have here is a completely separate action game that doesn’t even use the Minecraft engine. There’s no sign here of Minecraft’s trademark mining and craft elements. You won’t be digging into the ground for stones to make forts with, there’s no farming or livestock, and you won’t be refining minerals to make weapons either.
So where’s the Minecraft in Minecraft Dungeons? Well, the world is pure Minecraft: there are appearances from mobs including Creeper, Llama, Iron Golem, Evoker and, Enderman; items such as TNT and pickaxes; and stages based on familiar Minecraft blocks and biomes. The similarities extend to effects and sounds, so it’s easy to imagine this adventure having started somewhere in the vast world of Minecraft.
The basics of the game are easy to master: you select a stage, battle with mobs until you get to the end, power-up with dropped equipment, and move on to the next stage to do it all over again. It’s simple, arcade-style fun. Players set out as heroes on a mission to confront and overthrow the Arch-Illager who is intent on world domination.
While Minecraft Dungeons follows in the footsteps of the likes of Diablo, which is the originator of the modern hack-and-slash with its endless pursuit of powerful random drops, as well as Torchlight and other titles, its easy-going co-op play and descending mobs make it feel more like a modern reinterpretation of the arcade classic Gauntlet.
Although there isn’t the free progress of Minecraft’s Survival mode, Dungeons delivers the pure thrill of action and discovery in a setup that makes you want to keep playing again and again, with the composition of semi-automatically generated stages changing every time you play and a wide variety of weapons, artifacts, and armor in random drops.
The essence of Minecraft Dungeons’ appeal: an adventure in the Minecraft world
There are huge numbers of familiar mobs here, from the wall-building Zombie to the rain of arrows shot from afar by Skeleton and, at the top of the list, the charging and exploding Creeper.
There are formidable enemies too: Enchanter, which uses powerful magic to produce strong foes hidden deep behind enemy lines; Evoker, summoning Vex and using fangs from the ground; and Enderman, which appears at mid-boss level in the second half of the game. Not to mention Dungeons’ own original mobs such as Red Stone Golem.
On the other hand, it’s also possible to summon friendly mobs like Wolf and Iron Golem to fight for you. These aren’t just lookalikes, either. They actually have the same behaviors and roles as in Minecraft, and even the new mobs have the edgy design and behavior you’d expect from the Minecraft world.
As well as the impressive mobs, other highlights are the highly individual production and visuals of stages, which look like more detailed versions of stages built with Minecraft’s terrain editor. It’s a mix of parts that are produced in line with the background story and parts that procedurally generated, so while it feels fresh every time you play, the second half of the game in particular feels like the rush you’d expect from an arcade game.
Plenty of action to get stuck into
The basic action side of things is solidly constructed. The game feels great to play, with excellent movement when performing slash/stab/strike responses with close weapons, making emergency escapes, firing arrows or magic, and using effects such as Flame, Explosion, Poison, Icicle, Magic Chain, and Thunderstorm.
Whether using a mouse or a joypad, the controls are simple as you attack in whichever direction you’re moving, so it’s easy even for inexperienced gamers to pick up and play. For co-op play, it’s great that even players of varying skill and progress levels can play together.
There’s a wealth of weapons, armor, Artifacts (magic items), and Enchants that can be added to these. The process of trial and error is really satisfying, as you test different weapons with different Enchants and ways of fighting to see what works best.
Close-range weapons include hammers, pairs of swords, pickaxes, long swords, grave, and maces, each with their own ranges, combos and power, and there are specifically named unique weapons too. These include the Nameless Blade scimitar, featuring a black shiny blade equipped with a blood-sucking Enchant, the Truthseeker thrusting sword that boosts soul absorption capacity, and many more.
Artifacts include Fireworks Arrow, an arrow tied with TNT, the Death Cap Mushroom that gives a huge temporary boost to movement speed and attack power, Harvester, which fires absorbed deceased spirits as magical bullets in all directions, Lightning Rod, which transforms souls into flashes of lighting, and many more besides.
In multiplayer mode you can change how you battle by selecting different equipment and Enchants. For example, you could choose to play as an archer focused on leveling-up a crossbow or bow, or you may want to keep using soul-consuming artifacts.
As with all enjoyable hack-and-slash games, just when you think you’ve maxed out a particular item, a boss drop could give you a unique powerful item you’ve never used before. And then you have to think about how to combine the new item with Enchants and equipment, which is a big part of the fun.
Battles with mobs are not merely free-for-all brawls. There are strategic elements linked to equipment and the make-up of your party. You have to think about how to break through the vanguard and whether to take out those annoying Archers and Enchanters at the back, whether to destroy the enemies systematically or make a rush attack that opens up an escape route.
Easy to pick up and play
Minecraft Dungeons offers a wide variety of ways to battle thanks to its extensive collection of weapons and items, but regardless of character class, it all comes down to weapons, equipment and their Enchants (which can increase fire power, for example).
Skills are also tied to equipment. There’s no way to develop a character’s own skills.
And there’s no craft element either. It’s basically a matter of waiting for random drops of equipment. Nor is there any training system in the recently popular style of completing body parts by collecting rare materials or having to go around 80 times just to reached a particular level.
The upshot of this is stress-free enjoyment where you don’t need to worry about complex calculations or make big decisions that could have an impact down the line. This makes Dungeons easy to pick up and play even in multiplayer mode.
The common view is that adding some craft to character classes, skill trees, and collection of materials will increase players’ motivation as they get into the game, and this also ensures maximum life span for content providers.
However, this puts a lot of strain on players (both psychologically and in terms of the time they spend) because they’re forced to make irreversible decisions where one false step could screw everything up. There’s also the risk that as soon as players end up thinking purely about optimization, going around the “optimum” stages based on where the best materials will be dropped, they’ll start to feel that other stages and places where drops are lacking are a waste of time, turning the whole experience upside-down and diminishing the fun of action and discovery.
Of course there are games where optimization and grinding are fun pursuits in and of themselves, but it’s great how Minecraft Dungeons refuses to promote these aspects and instead provides the simple enjoyment of action and drops in a game that’s easy to pick up and play.
Which is not to say that you’ll never think of these things: it is possible optimize by selecting stages and difficulty levels based on the quality and frequency of drops. And as for the Enchants with slots set up randomly for each piece of equipment, there’s the big question of what to do with Enchant Points earned by leveling up through repeated battles.
For example, if you pick up a crossbow that’s compatible with two types of Enchants, you’ll have to think about how to allot Enchant Points. Should you customize the crossbow for pinpoint boss shooting by combining “penetration” and “growth” (increasing power over distances)? Or perhaps you should use those Enchant Points for barraging weaker enemies by selecting “multi-shot” (dispersing arrows based on probability) and “infinite” (recovering remaining ammo based on probability)?
But even this Enchant allotment also brings back points by “recovering” (selling) equipment, so you can experiment without worrying too much about the outcome.
Also contributing to the stress-free nature of the game is the fact that any limit on the number of times artifacts (magic items) can be used is tied to soul consumption, and returns to normal over time or by defeating enemies. Even healing medicine, which is a standard item, can be used again after some time has passed, so there are no consumable items to buy.
In other words, there’s no stress in terms of worrying about whether to use up ammo of a strong weapon at your disposal, you can savor the joy of the moment after defeating a tough boss in a one-on-one battle, and you’ll never get that urge to reset because you think you wasted too much of some precious item. And you don’t need to be a kill-joy when beginners jump in and play, because there’s no need to warn newcomers about misusing items. (Of course you still need to master the use of items, because it can take longer than 10 seconds for items to become usable again.)
Only standard long-range weapons (mainly bows) have finite ammo supply, encouraging preservation of ammo during stages so that you can use it all in key moments. But since ammo isn’t carried over to the next stageanyway, you’ll still want to make use of it within the same stage. This is a system that lets you play without worrying too much about what’s coming next.
There’s also a sense of the developer’s commitment to stress-free, friction-free action in the navigation of maps that change every time. It’s possible to overlay just an outline of the map on the middle of the gameplay screen, so there’s none of the stress that comes from having to open a map every time you get lost or even the slight annoyance of having to check both the game screen and a mini map.
There’s also a dynamic navigation icon constantly on display to show you which direction to take, which means you don’t even need the overlay map to get to your goal. And ultimately you’re free to decide if you want to ignore the navigation and stray off course to search for treasure chests in remote places, or always follow the icon to progress as quickly as possible.
A nostalgia-inducing arcade-style buzz best enjoyed in multiplayer co-op.
Minecraft Dungeons leaves out the heavy stuff like character training and management of consumable items within stages, plus it lets you immediately change your fighting style and role simply by changing equipment (there are no fixed classes such as magicians or soldiers), all of which contributes to a multiplayer mode that’s accessible and great fun.
It’s all about the special buzz of getting together with some friends and invading desert temples or dark mines, improvising tactics when faced unexpected foes, and working together to get through tough situations.
The procedurally generated semi-random maps make for a uniquely fresh experience. when faced with a large group of enemies strengthened by magic, you could find yourself insisting that someone in your group needs to take out the Enchanter or discussing whether to split into two groups and attack from the sides, and perhaps there will be a giant golem waiting for you on your escape route just as you’ve used up your healing medicine and ammo.
The difficulty level and rarity of drops is not set in place for each stage, but rather can be adjusted in line with your current character level, so you’re free to choose if you want to try landing powerful artifacts by working through with full equipment at a high difficulty level, or just play at a level where you can relax and enjoy the game. Like a true hack-and-slash game, completing Dungeons once on the initial difficulty level feels just like the start, as you can unlock higher difficulty levels with powered-up enemies and drops that look completely different.
Points for improvement
This is an accessible and addictive game, but not without aspects that could be improved. The biggest disappointment is the lack of cross-platform co-op play immediately after launch.
Even though Dungeons is a spin-off from the Minecraft series which, together with Fortnite, has made such a huge contribution to popularizing cross-platform play, and the fact that it’s available on all of the major platforms (Windows, Xbox, PS4, and Nintendo Switch), for now the game is locked to each platform. Which is a shame.
But the plan is for this to be resolved with a free update in the near future, so hope is not lost. An update should also make it possible for local multiplayer and online players to mix (at the moment, it’s not possible to play as a group of four with two local players and two friends online).
It’s also unfortunate that there’s no cross-saving support, and no plans to support this in the future either. Maybe playing at home on the PS4 and continuing outside on the Switch would be asking too much (such titles do exist, although players don’t seem too bothered), but this is a Microsoft game, so it’s strange that there’s no cross-saving between PC and Xbox.
Some of the action is a bit sloppy, too. In some specific situations, particularly in boss battles, it’s possible to win in a really crap way. This seems to be more of an oversight than a deliberate design choice.
But then again, some people enjoy finding safe zones and attacking through holes in a game’s system, so it would also be fair to say, “If you think it’s a crap way to win, just don’t play like that.” However, while I started out playing full of enthusiasm, as soon as I realized that there were boring ways to succeed, the Enchants that I’d worked to enhance, my favorite Epic equipment and the Loadout that I arrived at after much trial and error, well... they all lost some of their meaning. The serious challenge I should have been enjoying was muted, becoming a meaningless show of strength that I could abandon at any time.
Also, the map is quite static. Undulating maps are rich with eye-pleasing effects, with charming graphics making Dungeons look like an old arcade game reborn. However, it’s a shame that there are almost no interactive elements, apart from plants (which respond when stepped on) and the occasional chest or pot.
Maybe breaking blocks in true Minecraft style would be taking things too far, but overall this really looks and feels like a throwback, with little response to flame and lightning effects and no traces of damage after large-scale battles.
While there are some negative points, such as the lack of cross-platform play at present, this is an excellent hack-and-slash title that can be played casually or seriously whether flying solo or playing in a group. There are also plenty of positives to note. Dungeons’ arcade-style action feels great, and it would be a shame to dismiss this as an old-fashioned game piggybacking on the Minecraft brand despite not featuring any mining or building.
It’s free for all Xbox Game Pass subscribers, making it ideal for a quick blast in multiplayer mode. Even at retail price it’s on the cheap side (under 3,000 yen), and it makes for a good local co-op game to be played at home.
The stage count isn’t exactly huge, and it would have been good to see some more variation in the boss characters, but there’s DLC on the way (the Hero Edition, which retails at about 3,500 yen, includes an exclusive skin and the first two paid DLC content releases). It’s not part of the main Minecraft lineage, but Minecraft Dungeons is worthy of establishing itself a series in its own right for many years to come.
This article was originally written in Japanese. All images and content are directly from the Japanese version at the time of publication.