Monday, December 6, 2010

App O' The Mornin': Eden Review

Grade: B
Price: $3

Although my new column in Maximum PC is about Minecraft (PC/Linux/Mac),  I haven't written much about it here on State of Play. I played Minecraft Alpha a bit last summer, and decided to wait for it to develop a little further before I did much additional coverage. 

That's when I learned about it again ... from my son. Kids were discovering the game, and the work-in-progress nature of it was part of the appeal. Now my son and his friends are trading crafting recipes and tips, talking about their workbenches and adding new wings to their houses. They pour over the Minepedia like it’s the Dead Sea Scrolls and commiserate on the challenges of obsidian farming.

Minecraft is a world-building game in which you have an entire landscape to shape and develop using blocks and tools. The gameplay falls somewhere between a 3D Dwarf Fortress (albeit a version of Dwarf Fortress playable by actual humans) and the crafting element of certain MMOs, but done with vintage early-1990s PC graphics. That’s not a knock, by the way. Since the entire game is based around cubes and their manipulation, the blocky visuals actually suit the game quite well, giving it a consistent cubist aesthetic that’s oddly pleasing.
Eden for iOS is not Minecraft. It is a copycat that falls somewhere in the awkward lacunae between "homage" and "ripoff." Minecraft already made a brief cameo appearance in the app store via Minecrafted, a Minecraft client adapted for iOS, before being summarily yanked. 

But Eden is something different. It's an effort to recreate a piece of the "Minecraft Classic" experience for iPhone. As such, it does a good job, but falls well short of conveying the complete Minecraft Alpha experience. 

Eden is basically the building portion of Minescape without any of the other features.  There are three interactions: dig/destroy, build, and burn.  The dig & burn elements are self-explanatory, although it should be mentioned that neither yields any kind of useful secondary items. You don't get wood from chopping down a tree or charcoal from burning wood. The world is also completely lifeless, which means you can't punch sheep.

The build feature is the heart of the game. It provides a large palette of block designs which can be used for construction purposes. These are just standard blocks skinned to look like stone, brick, wood, and so on. One of the blocks is TNT, which can be used to blow things up real durn good. 

The movement and look-around controls work very well, and everything is put together nicely. There just isn't a lot to do in this world without the entire crafting/workbench/lava/zombie-pig element. Perhaps that's in the works. 

There is an integrated community function that allows you to upload and download your worlds, but beyond that Eden just feels like the initial steps of a better game. It's quite possible that new features will be added in future updates. It's equally possible that it will be yanked from the App Store for copyright infringements. Right now, it's a pretty nice way to carry a bit of the Minecraft experience around in your pocket. 


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