I’m not the biggest fan of so-called ‘dungeon crawlers.’ At least not in the traditional sense. Without realising it, I kind of am a fan of them, but only under certain conditions, conditions that Minecraft Dungeons fulfils.
Let me explain. One of the first dungeon crawlers I played was the original X-Men Legends on the OG Xbox, and again on the Gamecube. I loved that game and I must have completed it a dozen times, maybe more. I didn’t realise it was a dungeon crawler. To me, it was just a really good X-Men game.
Then I discovered Justice League Heros for the PSP – a similar game to X-Men Legends, but with Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and other DC favourites taking the starring roles. Again, to me, it was just a good Justice League game, not a dungeon crawler.
In my mind, dungeon crawlers were just that – games set in dark and dank dungeons, like the Diablo series and its many wannabes. I’ve steered away from them because, well, they’re just a touch too nerdy for me. And complicated. But games like X-Men Legends, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, and Justice League brought me into the fold without me even realising it, because they were really accessible. Minecraft Dungeons is this generation’s X-Men Legends, complete with Creepers and Skeletons.
The majority of my time playing Minecraft Dungeons has been in co-op with my four-year-old boy, Charlie. You’d think that such a pairing would make for a frustrating experience; do 4-year olds even know how to hold controllers? Yes, they do, or at least the one I am in charge of does. He’s been playing Minecraft since lockdown, so he knows the ins and outs of Minecraft, even more than I do.
Minecraft Dungeons is actually best played with a partner. I tried going it alone one evening when Charlie was asleep and it just wasn’t nearly as fun. The communication between us is half the joy as we shout out “Creeper!” or “Skeleton!” or “I’m dying, help me!” as we’re swamped by a mass of mobs. Alone, it’s just me swearing under my breath.
Despite being called Dungeons, the game doesn’t really have many actual dungeons, and most of the levels take place above the ground in various biomes. Each level is themed and has objectives which, for the most part, are very straight forward. There’s always an icon telling you where to go and what to do next, whether it’s freeing some poor villagers, hitting switches, or fighting the bosses. It’s simple and very easy to follow, but simple doesn’t mean easy. Not by a long shot.
Instead of having you pick a class from the start and play the entire game with that class, Minecraft Dungeons gives you the ability to customise your character on the fly, depending on what you’ve collected. You start out with next to nothing but as you smash your way through the levels, you’ll pick up loot. The loot that drops is dependant on what difficulty you’re playing. Me and Charlie played on the standard difficulties, levelling up our characters and collecting as many useful goodies as possible. Yet, we still stumbled against some of the bosses.
Changing your appearance is done by assigning armour to your character. Your character has three slots, one for armour, one for melee weapons, and another for a ranged weapon. This is how you change your appearance. For me, this is fine. I don’t really care how my character looks, I just want the best stats! For some, though, the lack of true customisation might be a bit of a bummer, but it doesn’t directly affect gameplay so it’s not all that important.
In addition to the three main slots, you also have three other slots for powers, ranging from firework rockets that can be fired from your bow, a magic shield that shoots purple death beams (my favourite!) and more. Deciding on what to use and when to use it is useful, but not 100% necessary. It’ll make your playthrough easier if you’re constantly analyzing the situation and making changes on the fly, but Charlie and I didn’t do that. I’d change my gear between levels and upgrade my weapons with the points awarded from levelling up, but Charlie didn’t. He’s 4. He can’t read yet. I’d nab the controller off him and get him sorted if I noticed he was dying a lot more, but that wasn’t often.
The gameplay itself is very simple too, and I’ll go back to X-Men Legends as a comparison. You have your main button to hit, and then your powers are assigned to the other face buttons, with the right trigger being used for your ranged attack. Each player also has the ability to heal using L1/LB, but it has a cooldown on it so you can’t spam it. This forced me and Charlie to co-operate, because one of my powers was a healing totem that, when placed on the floor, gives players some health. I’d shout “Charlie, come and heal!” and he’d come bounding over running away from the nasty mobs.
We’d plan our attacks, too, depending on how we died. You get a set amount of team lives, and once they’re gone it’s game over and you have to start the level again. Discussing battle tactics with a four-year-old is certainly a strange thing, but I’ve got to give it to the game and the designers; they knew what they were doing and it worked like a charm. Charlie learned a whole new genre of gaming, and it brought me back into the fold with a game I can play with my boy.
Then there are the pickups, which Charlie instantly recognised. He saw bread on the ground and knew it was a healing item, likewise with apples and meat. This stuff was all up for grabs, so whoever got it first got it. I’d get annoyed and tell him that he didn’t need that bread, and eventually, we got a point where he would ask if he should have it or if I needed it.
Thankfully, the more valuable drops like armour and weapons are already assigned to each player, so there’s no arguing over who gets what. It’s done with colour, too, so even though the little bugger can’t read, he can tell right away which is for him and which is for me. Another clever bit of visual communication, which Dungeons does really well.
I really enjoyed Minecraft Dungeons, more so now than I would have if it released five years ago. For me, the experience is elevated by playing with my boy, and playing without him is just not as fun. Taking on mobs and eventually, the evil Illager is an adventure best played with an inquisitive youngster.
Minecraft Dungeons PS4 Review
- Overall - Fantastic - 8/108/10
Minecraft Dungeons is best played with a partner, ideally a kid. It's family-friendly gaming at its best, and despite it being in a genre I don't normally bother with, I got sucked in. Half the fun comes from battles on the couch, and any game that leaves the screen and invades the living room, whether in the form of an argument or a co-operative discussion, is worthy of my time and money.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game bought at the expense of the reviewer. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using PS4 Pro and Xbox One X.