As a wise old housekeeper for a parochial house on a remote Irish island might have said if Minecraft had been a thing back then, "Minecraft, Minecraft, Minecraft, Minecraft, Minecraft, Minecraft, Minecraft. What you kids see in it, I don't know.". And if news of the block-building, item-crafting, Creeper-bashing phenomenon has even spread to the remote corners of Craggy Island, then we can assume that pretty much every man and his dog has heard of Minecraft by now. With the free-form creative sandbox game being such a phenomenon, it was only a matter of time before Minecraft spin-off games started popping up, with 2015's Minecraft Story Mode, a much more story-driven take on the Minecraft world, seemingly being the first of many. Minecraft Story Mode: Season Two picks up where the first eight episodes left off, with point and click adventure masters Telltale once again taking the helm for a trip into the world of Minecraft.
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As before, Minecraft Story Mode: Season Two is split into five separate episodes, with staggered releases, so you won't be able to play through the whole tale in one sitting until all have been released. While the first episode is free to download, and acts as an extended demo/introduction to the series, playing through the whole story through episodes two to five will require you to shell out either on an episode by episode basis, or at a slightly discounted rate for a 'Season Pass' to bulk-buy all the episodes in one, prior to their release.
Season Two sees you hopping back into the rather square shoes of Story Mode protagonist Jesse once more, now a seasoned adventurer and two-times world-saver. As you can probably guess, a new enemy threat has emerged, and it falls to Jesse, alongside his/her best friend Petra, to save the day once more, this time from a mysterious being known as 'the Admin' - the guy who claims to be responsible for building the world as they know it. What follows is an adventure that revolves almost entirely around dialogue and decisions, as you chat with the other residents of the cuboid world, help them out with their tasks, and make lots of important choices, each of which may alter how the story pans out, from something as subtle as reassuring a friend, to having to make a snap decision about which party member to help in a critical battle.
Episode 1: Hero In Residence
Beacontown, the settlement Jesse and the New Order of the Stone founded after defeating the destructive Witherstorm in Season One, is gearing up for the biggest celebration in its calendar - Founding Day. As the 'Boss', there's many a resident clamouring for your assistance with their preparations, whether it's building a statue, testing out a bouncy slime block 'trampoline' or picking out the perfect piggy to play your porcine companion Reuben in a play (Lord von Thunderpork VI, obviously). A couple of cameo YouTubers - StacyPlays and Stampy Cat - debate the catering (pumpkin pie or cake) leaving it to you to make the final call; or, if you can find a few extra ingredients around town, you can craft both and keep everyone happy. There's much more emphasis this time around on dialogue decisions and crafting useful items to get past certain road blocks, and a lot less in the way of more traditional 'use the thing with the other thing' point and click puzzles - possibly better for the younger target audience, but a bit lacking for the more old-school of Telltale fans.
Later, you'll head to the mines to meet up with your old pal Petra for some good old fashioned adventuring, and team up with a Zapp Brannigan-esque 'legendary' adventurer named Jack, whose "instincts are better than nine ocelots tied together!", and who always has a tale of his daring deeds to tell.
Episode 2: Giant Consequences
Episode 2 kicks off with a bang - or at least a smash - when a giant prismarine Colossus, calling itself 'the Admin', attacks Beacontown, spoiling for a fight with Jesse. A great example of one of Minecraft Story Mode's more action-y sequences, you'll be rescuing townsfolk, dodging the Colossus' attacks and sneaking your way around to attack his weak spot. Done via 'QTE' sequences, in which a particular button will flash up on screen for a few seconds, and it's up to you to press it as quickly as you can, to perhaps punch the Colossus, or throw down a summon-able wall. While not hugely taxing, missing the odd command will still cause you to fail, forcing you to repeat the last few button presses over again before you can continue. However, with the Colossus defeated, a new disaster befalls the town - plunged into an eternal snowy night by 'the Admin', he challenges Jesse and co to climb his "awesome, fantastic, super-deadly icy palace of despair" if they ever hope to lift his curse.
Fast-forwarding a little, the group has been split up at a major branching point - depending on whether you choose to go with Petra, Jack and Vos, or join Lucas and Radar, you'll get a different challenge. Taking the later (in the name of fairness, seeing as the other group already had 3 folks), Jesse, Lucas and Radar soon arrived at a neat little shooting gallery mini-game, where, one crafted bow later, you need to shoot all the enemy targets as they appear, whilst avoiding your friends.
Episode 3: Jailhouse Block
Having enraged 'the Admin' at the end of the last episode, Jesse and co are banished to the darkest depths of the world, into a prison where the Admin likes to keep all those that have opposed, or just generally annoyed, him over the years. Despite its sunny name - the Sunshine Institute - and its insistence that its more of a 'behavioural adjustment retreat centre', where everyone is a 'guest' with their own barred 'lounge' to sleep in, its almost definitely a prison, and one surrounded by a humongous maze filled with fearsome Minecraft bad guys. Jesse being Jesse though, she doesn't plan on staying trapped for long, enlisting the help of a legendary escape artist known as Prisoner X, the only person who ever came close to escaping from the Admin's lockup.
While in prison - sorry, we mean the behavioural adjustment retreat centre - we got talking to a happy little artist guy by the name of Rob. Thing is, there isn't much in the way of muses in a cellblock, so he asked us to make him a statue of a mushroom for him to draw, y'know, instead of painting a boring blank canvas every time. Here is where Minecraft Story Mode gets a little more Minecraft-y, and you're given a small 5x5 block plinth and a handful of coloured blocks with which to build your own creation, no rules (yes, you could build something phallic if you wanted to). Rob was so pleased with our mushroom monolith, he even said he'd spare us when his bad thoughts come - awww, the old softy.
Episode 4: Below The Bedrock
With the help of the aforementioned Prisoner X - or Xena, to her pals - Jesse and co now set about locating a legendary weapon capable of taking down the dreaded Admin. The only problem is it's hidden miles below the surface of the world they thought they knew; in an underground land that sits underneath the miles of bedrock once thought to be as far down as things went. What follows is a foray into the mysterious settlements and monster-infested lands of 'The Underneath', where you'll dodge giant Endermen, ride minecart after minecart and taking on the reigning champ in a trivia quiz to prove you're the most Faithful Friend of Fred there is (basically the town of Fred Keep's Jesus), because, you know, there's not a lot else to pass the time with down here.
As those of you who've played Telltale games in the past are likely aware of, conversations with your many companions can be a little emotional at times - whether it's worries about a missing friend, despair at their dilapidated home or even anger directed at your leadership skills, it falls to you to try and keep the peace. But your companions aren't stupid, and the words you tell them in their time of need will often come back to haunt you at various moments later on, whether it be telling a friend to just be themselves when they're about to meet their hero or giving a spunky young assistant an important job to do. 'So and so will remember that' has become a bit of a trademark Telltale trope over the years, and lets you know when your decisions have changed something during your playthrough, whether it be altering someone's opinion of you, or a major change in how the story pans out - and by the time episode 4 roles around, such revelations come at you thick and fast.
Episode 5: Above And Beyond
Rounding off the year with the series finale, Episode 5 sees our heroes facing off against the evil Admin, once and for all, saving Jesse's beloved BeaconTown in the process. With the Admin swanning about the place disguised as the protagonist, tricking all the inhabitants and generally being a bit of a pain in the backside, getting the wool over his eyes won't be easy. Especially when you consider the key to stopping him lies in the fortified and heavily guarded tower he built right, slap bang in the middle of town. It's time for operation sneaky sneaks - with more than a dollop of crazy thrown in for good measure!
Because how else would you get into a sky-high fortress than with a pair of wings, a couple of rockets and a bit of reckless bravado? But as is always the way, getting to that point is a bit of a multi-step process, involving some careful ransacking of a shop, some sneaking through town to steal a couple of uniforms and a bit of crafting, natch. Building on all the bits and pieces we touched on in the past four episodes - except for any actual building this time - the finale is pretty much more of the same, heavy on the fast-paced button pressing quick-time events we used to defeat the Colossus way back in Episode 2. It's also where a lot of your earlier choices come into play, with many a tearful reunion, surprise outburst and daring feats thrown in for good measure - we don't want to spoil too much, but safe to say, all the loose threads get tied up. Although we still can't work out how intern Radar ended up saving the day, but we suppose all heroes have their secrets.
On the whole, if you liked Minecraft Story Mode: Season One, then its a fairly safe bet you'll like Season Two, too - it's more of the same story-driven Minecraft-themed fun, with the gang heading out on yet more adventures to save the world. Lighter on the puzzles but heavier on the dialogue choices and branching stories, it's great for those who fancy a bit more of a structured take on the open-ended Minecraft formula, split up into five hour or two-long episodes. However, while previous games encouraged you to go back and replay episodes and take a different path to see how things changed, Season Two has a rather uninspired trophy list that merely ticks off each episode as you complete it, which does dramatically reduce the replay value here, which is usually such a selling point for Telltale games. With the story altering based on your decisions, you'd usually have to play through the game twice, or perhaps even three times to get all the trophies/achievements - but now, you'll get them all in just one playing, which is a bit disappointing. Still, it's more of the same, and as funny as you'd hope.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4