This week’s edition of What Do You Think? isn’t quite as heavy a topic as some of our previous questions, but it’s something I’ve been wondering about lately nonetheless. The first time I can recall the “sandbox" genre really coming into its own was back when Grand Theft Auto III launched on the PlayStation 2. Much in the same way Super Mario 64 ushered in the “era of 3D" several years earlier, GTA III took things one step further by offering a vast open world with endless possibilities. Sure, there was a storyline to follow, a great one in fact, with accompanying mission to complete in order to “beat" the game, and more optional side missions and activities than you could shake a stick at.
However, as most anyone will tell you who has played a GTA game from that third iteration on, more hours have been spent just running around and causing mayhem in the open world than have been spent on “beating" the game itself. It’s a liberating feeling, being able to go practically anywhere and do practically anything your twisted mind can come up with. GTA III really changed what we could expect in terms of scope from an action video game.
That was more than a decade ago, though, and a more contemporary landmark in the open world genre would have to be Minecraft. In Minecraft there is no storyline or quests to speak of. You’re simply thrust into a massive world made of blocks, and for the most part left to your own devices. With the various items and block types in the game, the possibilities literally are endless as to what you can do, but it’s really up to you to determine what you want to get out of Minecraft.
Of course Minecraft has been a wild success and has spawned a crazy number of similar kinds of games. As many of you know last week was a veritable craft-a-palooza as both Terraria ($4.99) and Junk Jack X ($4.99) hit the App Store within minutes of each other. Because of the close proximity of their releases, a “Terraria vs. Junk Jack X" battle broke out amongst gamers as people tried to decide which was the superior Minecraft-like sandbox title, and which one was most deserving of their hard-earned gaming dollars.
Well, there is no true answer, as both games offer up quite a different experience despite being so similar in concept. Terraria is more action-focused and has more set goals to achieve, with crafting and building being more of a supplementary element. Junk Jack X on the other hand is more about exploring and finding the vast array of items in the game in order to deck out your character or build the things that your heart desires.
Neither game is bound to those specific descriptions though, and you can largely still “do what you want" in either of them until the cows come home. We just barely gave the nod to Junk Jack X as our Game of the Week over Terraria simply due to it being a game built from the ground up for touch devices, as well as its excellent multiplayer component which Terraria on iOS can’t currently match. Still, the only right answer is to buy them both if you’re able to, as they are both phenomenal in their own right.
As I’ve been following the discussion threads for both Terraria and Junk Jack X in our forums, I’ve noticed a lot of newbies popping up who have never tried out a Minecraft-like sandbox game before. Some people seem to click right away with the genre, impressed with the open-ended nature of the game and the mind-boggling possibilities. On the other hand, many people seemed to be turned off by the lack of direction in these games. Traditionally, games are a finite experience that you play through and complete, experiencing what the designers intended you to along the way. With a game like Minecraft and its many derivatives, the ball is almost entirely in your court, and you make what you want out of it.
So that got me thinking. What do you think, TouchArcade Community? Do you prefer a game that has a set storyline, structured missions, and an actual ending? Would you rather play and beat a game, take what you can from the experience, and move on to the next game? Or would you prefer a game that’s open-ended and doesn’t necessarily have goals, but has literally endless possibilities and is only limited by your own imagination? What about a mixture of the two? Let us know what you think in the comments below.