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Saturday, 30 July 2016

Minecraft: Story Mode E6: A Portal to Mystery

Minecraft: Story Mode
Episode 6
A Portal to Mystery.

If I'm being honest, I'm not that excited about the Adventure storyline. I really adored the Wither Storm story: It was well-paced, had some excellent build-up, had a pretty terrifying antagonist (you can't really call the Wither Storm a villain), some great highs and lows, and while it wasn't perfect, it was probably one of the better stories Telltale Games had ever penned, and one of the few where it actually felt like any your choices even had the slightest bit of weight to them. The Adventure storyline, meanwhile, feels tonally jarring and kind of aimless, as Jesse, Lukas, Petra, and Ivor hop from world to world without really any kind of overarching plot.

If it had all been confined to DLC, that would have been fine - but instead, the storyline started in episode five of the main story, what would usually have been the grand finale, so instead there's this weird halfway house where it's both part of and not part of the main story.


A Portal to Mystery takes Jesse and the gang to a world filled with zombies. Taking shelter in the mansion of the White Pumpkin, they soon encounter a variety of other guests, all invited for dinner. But before long, guests start dying, and it soon becomes clear that the White Pumpkin is after that world's enchanted flint and steel to open a portal, and is willing to kill to get it. With Lukas falling under suspicion, and nobody able to leave the mansion until dawn, Jesse must put on his detective hat and discover the true identity of the White Pumpkin.


It warrants mentioning that this episode has a gimmick, and that gimmick is 'famous Minecraft youtubers are the party guests.' This -- is a gimmick that fell a little flat for me, because I don't tend to watch Minecraft youtubers, but I did, at least, recognise Captain Sparklez, who was clearly meant to be the biggest name there. There was a bit of wink-wink-nudge-nudge-you-know-who-these-guys-are going on, which was fine, really, I'm not going to begrudge the series a little bit of fun. 

In all honesty, though, the gimmick was a little bit jarring at times, since most of these people aren't professional voice actors and, while they certainly all gave it the old college try, most of them didn't make brilliant voice actors. Some of them certainly did: CaptainSparklez actually did a pretty solid job (and his inclusion led to the best joke of the episode, as Ivor snaps at Lukas to be respectful, since they're talking to a captain), as did a few others, including Cassie Rose, who plays the villain in extraordinarily hammy fashion. I mean that in the best way possible, too, as she goes full Mitchell and Webb evil voice in the episode's final act, doing the verbal equivalent of smoking an evil cigarette out of an evil cigarette holder.

Cassie Rose, and a cat who I assume is based on her actual cat?

In theory, I do actually like the idea of a Minecraft: Story Mode murder mystery, despite my resentment at the Adventure storyline in general. It falls a little bit flat here, as the episode is so short (it comes in at an hour and a half, somewhat shorter than most episodes) that the storyline has to rush through the mystery at a breakneck pace, especially since the last twenty minutes are devoted to a quicktime event action scene between Cassie Rose and Jesse.

There's also not a great deal of actual sleuthing involved. The episode does try to work it in by having a Poirot-esque 'everyone gathered in the drawing room' moment that you can screw up if you pick the wrong options (as I nearly did), but adding in clues that you could miss, or other gameplay elements to increase the detective-y vibe, could have gone a long way towards making this episode stand out.

(In other news, I'm increasingly vexed at the game's insistence on making Jesse and Petra best friends forever a thing, not least because I'm deeply concerned there's going to be a tired, forced romance plotline. More Jesse and Lukas, please. Or bring back Olivia and Axel, and we can have more Jesse and Olivia while Axel tumbles headlong off a cliff! I'm flexible.)

Just one day from a promotion to Admiral.

Ultimately, this episode was -- fine, I guess? It's becoming very obvious that the standalone episode format doesn't work out well for this series, whereas the arc-based serialised format obviously did, so I'm kind of not looking forward to two more episodes of it. The next episode, it seems, is about Jesse fighting a HAL 9000 type computer who has taken over a desert wasteland, which seems like an interesting concept, at least? I'm going to try being cautiously optimistic, let's put it that way.

Honestly, though, it feels like this entire storyline is sapping the life from the series, and that really is a shame. Still, it's not so far gone that a good final episode wouldn't be able to pull it back.

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