I’m never sure how to tackle this sort of game. Survivalcraft is an unashamed Minecraft clone – its name and graphics a sure enough sign if the gameplay itself wasn’t. As regular readers will know, I’m not hugely enamoured with clones. At the same time, it’s the clone of a wildly popular game that is not available on Windows Phone 7 – in other words, it’s filling a gap in the market which many consumers have been looking to fill, so I have some appreciation for the developer’s decision to fill that gap in the market.
It’s also, to be fair to Candy Rufus Games, not the easiest of titles to clone: Minecraft is a vast, sprawling exercise in procedural generation and freedom, and to successfully clone it would take an awful lot of work. As such, I’m willing to give the game the benefit of the doubt, and judge it on its own merits rather than simply condemning it for being a clone.
A shame, then, that at the moment those merits are a little thin on the ground.
The good news first: this is a fairly impressive-looking game. Minecraft may not be a particularly beautiful game, but it’s rare that we get to explore vast 3D expanses on our smartphones, and for this alone Survivalcraft is worth a look. The framerate isn’t brilliant, but it’s certainly passable, and exploring the hills and valleys of your newly generated land is a pleasant enough way to while away the time.
Or at least it would be, were the controls a little less iffy. Movement is handled with a virtual stick drawn from the bottom-left corner, facing from the bottom-right. These both work well enough – the lack of a need for immediate reactions in the game means that the usual problems facing virtual twin-stick designs are much lessened. Pressing and holding on an object in the world causes your character to dig away at it, enabling you to tunnel your way through the world and collect crafting ingredients, as with Minecraft – again, this works fine. As does tapping in the world to place or use an object.
The problem comes with jumping. In a world filled with mountains and no smooth ‘ramps’ to move along, vast amounts of jumping are required to traverse even short distances. And how do you jump? By tapping either of the twin-stick buttons. Which the game usually interprets as you wanting to move or look around slightly, rather than actually jump. This could be solved by something so simple having a larger deadzone for the sticks, or using a gesture to jump (an upwards swipe on the left or right of the screen, perhaps?), but as it stands it makes every step a chore – and you can forget about jumping across gaps with any reliability.
There are some issues with the crafting interface too (with the game’s reliance on held taps to place individual items making it a laborious process), but that’s drastically overshadowed by the crafting itself. It’s simply unfinished. Distinctly unfinished. You can craft planks, and a crafting table, and an axe. But not a pick-axe. Or torches. Or even a door. The game is currently littered with objects that serve no purpose (hello, coal),* and without the possibility for doors doesn’t even give you the opportunity to create a safe haven.
Which makes the lack of any monsters a relief. There are no threats in this game, which suits the limited crafting options and the clunky controls – and, to be fair, me (I prefer my games of Minecraft to be devoid of threat, leaving me to happily mine and, er, craft) – but will be quite the disappointment for any players wanting a bit of tension in their game. There’s also the problem that, as there are no animals yet in the game, there are no sources of food, which means that any fall damage can’t be healed. Which, combined with the awful jumping controls, does mean that death by misadventure is a fairly common occurrence.
Quite simply, the game is unfinished. The developer admits as much, and is apparently working on fixing the jump controls and expanding the crafting options, before adding in monsters. Which is fair enough – Minecraft has only just come out of beta itself, after all – except for the fact that he is already selling the game despite it being utterly, utterly unfinished, and the fact that the game description makes no mention of this. And the free trial? Being limited to a few scant minutes means that the average player will not have the chance to realise how unfinished the game is before giving out their money.
Survivalcraft may one day grow into something worthwhile. Right now, however, it comes across as a terribly underdeveloped game trying to cash in on the success of a wildly inventive original. Prospective buyers hold off and wait to see whether the developer really does deliver on his promises to improve the game. And who knows, perhaps Mojang will port the original Minecraft across themselves. As it stands, Survivalcraft is simply not worth the £1.49 asking price.
*CORRECTION: both the developer and one of the commentators below informed me that coal does in fact have a purpose – while torches were not implemented in the version of Survivalcraft reviewed, lanterns can be created using it. My apologies for the error.
Survivalcraft Gameplay Video
Version Under Review : 184.108.40.206
There is a time-limited trial version available and the full version is available for $1.99.
Our Rating for Survivalcraft
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