SAN FRANCISCO — Minecraft is available on just about every platform short of a TI-83 graphing calculator, so it makes sense that the game would get a virtual reality release. Working along with Oculus, Mojang has created a port of Minecraft: Pocket Edition for the Samsung Gear VR. While the title offers few surprises, it's a solid way to experience your Minecraft creations in a more personal way than ever before.
Mojang hasn't announced a release date or price yet for the new version of Minecraft, but I had the chance to test Minecraft in VR at a press event at the Game Developers Conference 2016. Even though I'm a neophyte when it comes to the popular building sim, I learned the ropes fairly quickly. Basically, Minecraft VR is just Minecraft: Pocket Edition optimized for a headset. It even offers two slightly different ways to play — one that's ideal for building, and another better suited to exploring.
The first mode is the plainer of the two, but will also be immediately familiar to any Minecraft veteran. When you first don the Gear VR, you'll find yourself in a cozy living room with Minecraft playing on a screen in front of you, just like a PC monitor or TV. You can look around with full 360-degree fidelity, but the only things you'll see to the sides and the rear are walls and furniture. This mode may seem superfluous, but it's actually quite useful for traditional resource-gathering and building, since it presents players with a tried-and-true interface.
Bringing up the menu and transitioning into the game's full VR mode proves to be the more exciting option. As soon as I did so, the living room disappeared, and I found myself fully ensconced in a playground that the developers had prepared to show off the benefits of VR. Not only could I look all around by swiveling in my chair, I could also aim my cursor just by looking at the object I wanted in my crosshairs. This was fairly useful for collecting resources, but incredibly helpful for targeting enemies with a bow and arrow.
The highlight of the experience came toward the end of the demo, when I hopped into a mine cart and took a ride through a dungeon's cavernous depths. The mechanics of it weren't any different than a similar ride on a tablet or PC, but the experience felt much more intense and real — or at least as real as a retro cartoon game world can feel.
However, this mode is not ideal for construction and adventuring. Minecraft is a game that requires players to look in all directions on a fairly constant basis, and physically turning around is simply not fast enough. While you can adjust the camera with the right stick, doing so is jerky and slow, and made me feel sick to my stomach after only a few rotations. Instead, the developers recommended that players stick to building in the living room mode, then using the full VR mode to explore their creations.
While Minecraft VR won't redefine the traditional Minecraft experience, it seems like a way for existing fans to fully immerse themselves in the ambitious worlds that they've created.