I'm fortunate - not only did I play Minecraft: Story Mode's first episode before its release, I was actually able to play it on a large cinema screen, in a theatre all by myself. But then, you're all fortunate too, because it's great. Even without a couple of hundred inches of screen to view it on.
I'm not totally sold on Telltale's output, generally. I like what the studio does, but I felt almost zero emotion at the ending of the Walking Dead's first season, I made the mistake of playing the terrible Jurassic Park, and the Game of Thrones tie-in isn't doing much for me. What I mean is: I like Telltale, I'm just not mad for it, to use the parlance of our times. If 'our times' were the mid-90s.
Then you've got Minecraft, which I've played a bit, and whose cultural impact I appreciate, but generally speaking I’ve largely ignored it since it quietly took over the world. So I didn’t expect this to move me much. I feel like an idiot now for thinking like that. This is, fittingly, a superbly well-crafted adventure, made with two elements that often don't go together: care and a budget.
The budget is apparent from the off - yes, it looks like Minecraft so it looks cheap, but the production values (especially considering it's a Telltale game) are superb, with slick animations supplementing the traditional Minecraftian stilted animation and a voice cast that reads like a who's who of voice acting. Billy West!
Then there's the care factor: Minecraft: Story Mode is quite obviously made by people who get the series and like it a lot. While there are plenty of little references in the script to things outside of the blocky world, it's the little nods to Minecraft itself that will keep people smiling the most. Well, so long as you know what they're on about.
I can't say much for fear of ruining things, but you can watch the first 15 minutes below, if you don't mind the opening being played by me for you. Generally speaking, the story hits all the right notes - it's an all-ages tale made with films like the Goonies in mind, and it shows. Jokes are generally good enough to make even jaded old cynics (hello!) chuckle, if not outright snort, and the escalation from a normal day to a grand, world-spanning adventure conjured up memories of many a film I watched in my youth.
There are actual game bits in there too. There's a bit of exploration and interaction with the world in a cut-back adventure game style; there's the odd action sequence, like a run-and-dodge bit later on; the obligatory, though not-rubbish QTEs pop up; there's even real-time combat, which proves simplistic but engaging, usually because it comes about when the story is getting tense or otherwise stressful. It's a surprisingly varied mix - none of it will be winning any awards for the best of the particular genre it apes, but it does what it needs to do. It functions, it doesn't interfere and it doesn't take you out of the moment.
But the biggest triumph I see with Minecraft: Story Mode is how clearly it's been made with group playing/viewing in mind. Only one person can control it, of course, but this is very much something friends, family, enemies or whoever else will be able to play - and enjoy - together, whilst squabbling over this-or-that Telltale decisions. Story Mode is entertaining enough that I can definitely see it being enjoyed by those who just want to sit back and watch.
I'm sure people will come across some technical hitches (this is a Telltale game after all), and those with no ability to like things without guns and soldiers in them obviously won't be enamoured, but honestly I don't care about either. Minecraft: Story Mode's first episode is a triumph - I want to play through it again, I want to watch the video of the episode I grabbed even though I played it all, and I really can't wait for the remaining four episodes. Colour me surprised.