Finally! As announced on the PlayStation Blog today, Minecraft: PlayStation Vita Edition has a release date, and it's next Tuesday, October 14, 2014. If you haven't been following the saga, this might seem like such a big deal, but it's actually been a pretty long and winding road to get to this point.
But first, it's important to understand why I have been following this saga in the first place. I mean, it's not like Minecraft is a new game; it's actually been out for a little over five years at this point. Why haven't I played it on other platforms? Why do I want to play it on Vita? Let's go back in time.
When Minecraft launched in 2009, it was a PC-only experience. The freeform, build-anything vibe on which it staked its reputation was a decidedly PC gaming concept, not to be found on consoles. In fact, console gamers were only starting to get some of the unique, indie content from the PC scene with seminal Xbox Live Arcade title Braid having debuted on Xbox 360 only one year prior in 2008. I recall trying a browser-based version of Minecraft in its beta. I was intrigued, maybe a little overwhelmed, but ultimately not interested in playing a game on on a computer screen. I went back to the living room and my trusty consoles.
Two years later, in 2011, though, Minecraft took a step in my direction, releasing iOS and Android ports, titled Minecraft: Pocket Edition. I had an iPhone, I thought, and this kind of game seems more suited to a portable machine. Maybe it's time I took this series more seriously. But when I thought a little more about it, the prospect of manipulating a virtual set of LEGOs in 3D space just sounded frustrating. Plus, I've never really enjoyed gaming on my phone with the amount of emails and other notifications constantly popping up on my screen. So I slid my phone back into my pocket and focused on my then-newly-purchased PlayStation 3.
It's probably worth pointing out at this point that Minecraft kept getting bigger and bigger this whole time. Older gamers, like myself and many of the games writers and bloggers I followed, were aware of it, talked a little about it, but it seemed to have a hard time capturing their/my interest the same way it was absolutely overtaking the younger demographic of players across the world. Intricate missions with branching narratives and mature themes be damned—Minecraft was giving kids the ability to use their imaginations, and they were loving it.
The fever pitch reached a boiling point, though, in 2012 when Microsoft struck a timed exclusivity deal with Mojang, the makers of Minecraft, to bring the game to consoles. One console, to be exact: the Xbox 360 (it didn't come to the PS3 until 2013). While the game brought a few new features to the table, it also reduced the size of the worlds you could build. That, however, did not prove to be an issue, as the 360 version has sold over 13 million copies of the game. More importantly for me, though, was the fact it introduced dual-stick gamepad controls for the series. Still, I couldn't get past the nagging thought this was simply a game I'd rather play on a mobile device (just not a smartphone). Again, I waited.
Then, finally, at Gamescom in 2013, Mojang announced that a version of their incredibly successful franchise would be coming to PS Vita. In my mind, the marriage of the Vita's portability and the console-style controls is the perfect fit for a game like Minecraft, and I decided it was the version I'd finally purchase.
And then the troubles began.
Of the three PlayStation versions announced at that Gamescom, only the PS3 Edition actually released in 2013. The PS Vita and PS4 Editions got shuffled into 2014 with no firm dates.
Then, in August 2014, news hit that the PS4 version of Minecraft had failed certification after being to Sony for review. In reality, this isn't a terribly unusual thing to happen during a game's development, although it was a little out-of-the-ordinary for Mojang to be so transparent about it. Still, it caused a lot of gamer alarm that there were development struggles with the PS4 version, which led to speculation about the Vita Edition's status. If nothing else, it meant that 4J Studios (the developer who handles all the Minecraft console ports), had to keep working on the PS4 version instead of finishing up with the Vita version. And, ultimately, the PS4 Edition released on September 4, 2014, without no major issues.
All of that would soon seem like small potatoes, though, because, mere days later on September 15, 2014, Microsoft bought Mojang (and Minecraft with it) for $2.5 billion. I've already written about this and some of the implications it could have had, but there really was some concern about how Microsoft would handle the impending release of yet another version of the game on a Sony platform. Microsoft released a statement intended to calm these fears:
However, that last sentence still left some people concerned that perhaps Sony would be reluctant to continue offering sales of a game that would directly line the pockets of its primary rival in the console space. Would this turn into an ugly battle of the consoles in which the Vita would end up the unfortunate victim?
But, then, fortunes seemed to smile briefly on the Vita faithful. On September 24, 4J Studios tweeted that they had passed the final Vita Edition code to Sony for certification. This was certainly good news, right? But the shadow of the PS4's troubles loomed over the proceedings. And then over two weeks passed with virtually no news on the fate of the port.
Was it plagued with issues? Did it need to be fixed? Was Microsoft changing its mind? What was happening? Last week's PlayStation Network release lineup was conspicuously missing any news of Minecraft, causing stir among those who have been following this story. It really seemed like a game that might never see the light of day.
And so we find ourselves today, happily enjoying the news that this unique version of the game. Only a few days left to wait, but I can't help to wonder if it will have been worth it. One need only think back to this year's earlier big release on Vita, Borderlands 2. Like Minecraft, it was promised as a feature-complete PS3 port but fell short of expectations. Hopefully Minecraft will be able to more fully deliver on the promise, especially with its inclusion of Cross-Buy and Cross-Save with PS3.
Ultimately, though, it just feels a little lucky that we're even getting this game at all after all this time. The Vita hasn't been the luckiest console around, despite being a pretty fantastic piece of portable gaming hardware. Sony has even admitted that they aren't so sureabout the future of AAA titles on the handheld, but here we are getting arguably the biggest game of the last five years. It wasn't an easy or short road to get here, but we made it. Let's enjoy the end of the ride.