There's no doubt that Mojang's Minecraft has become a nearly unfathomable success over the past few years, and as with anything that becomes popular there's a seemingly unending line of people that rush to ride the coattails of that success.
Not that I'm saying there's anything wrong with taking heavy inspiration from a game. I mean heck, even Minecraft was inspired by similar games that came before it. But in the mobile space especially, 99% of anything that gets released that's reminiscent of Minecraft is just a crappy knock-off and cash-in attempt that's of little value to anyone. "Minecraft" is the new "Angry" or "Temple" in terms of latest SEO hotness, I guess you could say.
I can tell you from personal experience working at TouchArcade that with dozens of these kinds of games coming out every week it gets very hard to decide which ones are worth exploring and which ones should just be written off as the cheap clones that they are. It gets very easy to dismiss these games when so many bad ones are churned out at such an incredible pace.
With that said, a new Minecraft-y game has been ripping up the charts lately and even jockeying for position with Mojang's official Minecraft - Pocket Edition [$6.99]. That game is called Survivalcraft [$3.99], and despite being made by just a single person it bests even Mojang's official mobile offering and even does some unique things to set itself apart from the pack. And, despite our initial hesitations, this is anything but a cheap knock-off attempting to cash in on the Minecraft craze, and is in fact the best mobile sandbox game of its kind that you can get at this time.
So what exactly is it about Survivalcraft that puts it ahead of Minecraft - PE? Well first and foremost is scope. Survivalcraft is an absolutely massive world, and for the life of me I cannot find its boundaries. That's because it doesn't have any. I'm not sure if it's just a huge world that circles around or if it just keeps on randomly generating terrain as you go ad infinitum, but as anybody who has played Minecraft - PE knows all too well there's nothing more disappointing than hitting the invisible walls of its tiny world. In Survivalcraft this just plain isn't an issue. It's astounding for a mobile device.
Exploring a giant open world is one of the biggest attractions of Minecraft, but that also includes exploring dark, foreboding caves. There's nothing quite like coming across a tiny nook in the side of a mountain, seeing that it's actually an entrance to a cave, and then finding out just how far down the rabbit hole goes. It's exhilirating. Unfortunately, Minecraft - PE doesn't have caves at all, though it sounds like they are planning on adding them at some point in the future. However, Survivalcraft has caves right now, and they're just as satisfying as if you're playing the full-blown desktop version of Minecraft. It gives you that same exhilaration but on the small screen.
Another big part of the Minecraft experience is modding and customization. With the ability to create and use custom texture packs you can pretty much skin the world of Minecraft however you like. Survivalcraft supports this functionality, but Minecraft - PE does not. In fact, the most popular texture pack for Survivalcraft is the one with proper Minecraft textures. Go figure.
You can also upload entire worlds online in Survivalcraft to be shared with anybody. The closest Minecraft - PE comes to that currently is a local multiplayer mode, though Mojang is working on official online functionality and there's at least one 3rd-party solution that works for that. Survivalcraft doesn't support any sort of multiplayer at this point, but being able to download other peoples worlds and texture packs is a really nice feature that makes it feel more social and connected to the fan community.
One thing that Survivalcraft does that might seem insignificant but I think is actually pretty important is add an overarching context to the game. In Minecraft, you just spawn in a big world for no real reason. You're just kind of there and then off you go. Survivalcraft starts off with a ship abandoning your player in a new world, and they make sure to let you know they aren't coming back. So, just as its name implies, your job in Survivalcraft is to survive and create a new life in this new world. Minecraft is about survival too, but there's nothing that ever alludes to that. You just sort of figure it out.
Honing in on the survival aspect is the direction Survivalcraft has taken and will continue to take to further differentiate itself from Minecraft proper. If you peruse the developer's blog or YouTube channel you'll see that stamina, an increased emphasis on food, and much smarter creature AI will make it more challenging just to stay alive in your new wilderness home. The following video is just a sample of the consequences of not getting enough sleep in the game, which will be part of the next major version update, and it also gives you a glimpse at what Survivalcraft is like in motion.
Oh, and you might notice something else if you check out that blog. The developer of Survivalcraft is just one person. How can one man make a better mobile Minecraft than Mojang themselves, who seemingly have unlimited money and resources? I have no idea, but it's impressive. Also, Survivalcraft orginally launched on Windows Phone back in 2011, and Android in October of 2012 before finally popping up on iOS late last month. So it has had the benefit of being tweaked, changed and updated for well over a year before coming to iOS, meaning the version we ended up with felt quite polished and complete right from the gate.
Depending on how you feel about cloning might go a long way towards how much you enjoy Survivalcraft too. Personally, the whole Minecraft revolution reminds me a lot of when Doom came out in the early '90s. For the next several years, every first-person shooter was referred to as a Doom-alike. I feel like a block-based sandbox game is just its own genre by now. Doom wasn't the first FPS and Minecraft wasn't the first block-building sandbox game, but both titles were landmarks in carving out a new kind of genre.
I could go on and on about Survivalcraft, like its extensive collection of block types and variety of creatures that inhabit the world, both of which trump Minecraft - PE soundly. But the bottom line is that if you're looking for the best mobile Minecraft experience, you're going to want to pick up Survivalcraft. Players in our forums have been hooked since its release, and even though I've dumped a considerable amount of time into the game myself I still only feel I've just scratched the surface of what's possible here.
Mojang will hopefully get to a point where Minecraft - Pocket Edition is the robust experience everyone hopes it will be, but as of right now Survivalcraft blows it out of the water in just about every way, and even compares favorably to the full-blown desktop version of Minecraft.
To me, Minecraft is all about having adventures. Sharing amazing stories of just barely escaping a predator, accidentally burning down your house, discovering just the most expansive and detailed cave that you wind up blowing an entire afternoon exploring without even realizing. The possibilities are endless, and you know that every time you fire up Minecraft you're going to have an adventure and a new tale to share with others.
Right now, Minecraft - Pocket Edition is just a pretty block-building game. It's getting better, and I'm really rooting for it to, but it doesn't give me any sense of adventure. Survivalcraft does, and it does it in impressive fashion for a mobile device. For that reason and the reasons listed above, it's the mobile Minecraft that I'm sticking with.
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