Minecraft is a huge game, one that millions of kids, and many adults, play for hours every day. Although players can fight each other, the game has always been set up for cooperation more than competition. That will change in June when Microsoft and Mojang launch Minecraft Battle, the first of a series of Mini Games coming to Minecraft on consoles.

Read on for our first-hand Minecraft Battle impressions and gameplay video!

From Hunger Games to Battle

The PC version of Minecraft supports mods, some of which add player-created modes and game types. The Hunger Games is one such mode that has become quite popular. It mixes the gameplay of Minecraft with the concept of The Hunger Games novels and movies. Players fight to outlive each other while dealing with existing Minecraft survival mechanics. Kids love The Hunger Games and they love Minecraft, so the popularity of the mod makes perfect sense.

Minecraft Battle Xbox One Beta Screen All screens from the Beta version of Minecraft Battle for Xbox One

Console versions of Minecraft don't offer mod support, but they will soon be getting the equivalent of developer-created mods via the upcoming Mini Games menu. Mini Games allow Microsoft and its partners to offer unique game types and experiences separate from the normal Minecraft game types.

The first such Mini Game, Minecraft Battle, comes from 4J Studios, developers of the console editions of Minecraft. Minecraft Battle functions as a simplified version of The Hunger Games mod, dropping the support for different character classes but maintaining the basic competitive structure. The goal remains the same: to kill off the other players and be the last one alive when the game ends.

Battle options

Minecraft Battle Xbox One Beta Screen

Minecraft Battle supports 2-8 players. Up to four players can play from a single console on Xbox One. Split-screen players can join online games too, just like the base Minecraft game.

As mentioned earlier, the goal in Minecraft Battle games is simply to defeat everyone else and be the last person alive. This Mini Game doesn't offer different PvP game types like Team Deathmatch or Capture the Flag, just the vanilla Battle mode. Still, the host can customize the experience with a few options:

  • Online or offline: For local multiplayer games, you can prevent the game from allowing online players.
  • Invite Only: Keep out the riffraff by requiring invites.
  • Allow friends of friends: By default, only friends can join an online Minecraft game. This option lets your friends' friends join as well.
  • Round Length: Set the game duration from three to 60 minutes, or Unlimited.

Minecraft Battle Xbox One Beta Screen I fell into a burning ring of fire...

  • Hunger Rate: Slow, Normal, or Fast. The hunger mechanic can't be turned off, which seems like a major oversight. I dropped dead from hunger before I realized you have to eat even in Battle. The Slow rate really minimizes the need for food, though.
  • Item Respawn: Choose how long it takes for items to respawn inside chests, from 30 seconds to five minutes or no respawns.
  • Grace Period: At the start of every round, players have a period of time in which they can collect items and move around without being able to harm each other. This can range from five to 30 seconds or be disabled.
  • Enable Showdown: When the end of the round nears because everyone else has died or time is running out, the game goes into Showdown and reveals the Gamertags of the remaining participants. Not sure why you'd turn this off.

Minecraft Battle Xbox One Beta Screen Not the best inventory management system

  • Allow All Skins: Some skins have been deemed "unfair" due to their effect on the player's hitbox size. This option will prevent those skins from being used and is on by default.
  • Enable Take Everything: Players get all of their equipment from chests in Minecraft Battle. By default, they can empty a chest all at once. With this option disabled, they'll have to clumsily remove items one at a time instead.
  • Central Spawn: By default, everyone spawns at the center of the map when the game starts. This leads to some early fights as soon as the Grace Period ends. Turn it off and everyone will begin farther apart, which works better in large games than small ones.

Participating in a Battle

Minecraft Battle Xbox One Beta Screen 2-player split-screen on Xbox One

Microsoft invited us to play a closed beta version of Minecraft Battle along with several other games journalists. We played numerous six-player games.

We would've played a full eight-player game, but the Minecraft Xbox One bug that occasionally rejects someone as not being on the host's friends list (and thus won't let them join the game) reared its ugly head. Since Minecraft's actual Community Manager got to experience the bug firsthand, hopefully our experience will lead to the bug finally getting squashed for Xbox One players.

Upon creating a server, everyone who joins arrives in a waiting area that looks like a town. They can wander around and look at things, but not much else. Once two or more players have entered the game (locally or online), the host can begin the game and everyone will be transported to the selected map. It's a shame we can't battle in the waiting area, because it actually looks like a fun environment.

Minecraft Battle Xbox One Beta Screen The Grace Period at the start of a match

After the map loads, everyone has a brief invulnerability period (unless the host has disabled it) during which they can grab items from chests and take up battle positions. The contents of chests are randomized, although the chests and levels always stay the same. No random layouts here.

Some of the things you can find in chests include weapons (swords, bows), tools (axes, picks), armor, potions with various helpful or harmful effects, and food. The environments are indestructible, so picks and axes function solely as weapons in Battle. Armor will be automatically equipped when removed from a chest. Weapons have to be manually selected, just like in a regular game of Minecraft.

Sometimes you'll open a chest but won't find any weapons to wield. You can still duke it out with your fists, but you'll most likely want to run away and search for more chests. The maps we played are fairly large, with lots of interesting geometry such as temples, towers, and a huge dragon skeleton. They have plenty of verticality, with chests scattered along the upper and outer ridges.

Minecraft Battle Xbox One Beta Screen A bat's-eye view of the map

When players die or join a Battle server mid-game, they become a bat. Bats can fly around anywhere on the map and squeak at surviving players. Otherwise they are insubstantial. The bat mechanic is actually pretty clever, as it can be fun to pester the living by flying around them. Players stuck as bats can also choose to view any surviving player's third-person camera.

The last person standing (or the player who dealt the most damage if time runs out) is the winner. Once a game ends, the server automatically cycles to the next map. Hosts can enable or disable any map, so you can disable all but one map if you only want to play a specific map.

A promising direction for Minecraft

Minecraft Battle Xbox One Beta Screen 4-player split-screen on Xbox One

Minecraft Battle is arriving as a free update to Minecraft for Xbox One and 360; PlayStation 3, 4, and Vita; and Wii U, sometime in June. Microsoft can't confirm whether Minecraft for Windows 10 will get the Battle update. But if it does come to Windows 10, it will be after the console editions. Also, Microsoft plans to update Battle based on community feedback, as well as releasing new Mini Games for Minecraft in the future.

Three maps (Cavern, Cove, and Crucible) will be included with Minecraft Battle for free. Additional map packs will cost $2.99. The first pack consists of Medusa, Lair, and Temple. Microsoft tells us that players who don't own a map will be able to join an online game hosted by someone who does own the map, which is cool.

Having played a few hours of the Minecraft Battle beta, I feel that Battle sticks a little too closely to the main Minecraft game. Several UI elements (such as inventory management) that make sense in the slower-paced Minecraft survival game don't mix well with a fast-paced Deathmatch mode.

Minecraft Battle Xbox One Beta Screen

The control method for firing arrows – press and hold the Left Trigger and then release – feels cumbersome compared to the standard "Hold Left Trigger and press Right Trigger to fire" method that even Dark Souls III uses. It's all a bit clunky compared to other player-versus-player games.

Still, I'm looking at this as someone who doesn't often play Minecraft. There are millions of people out there who only play Minecraft, and they won't mind a bit that pretty much everything works the same as the core game. Those kids (and most hardcore fans) will love what Battle brings to the console editions of Minecraft.

We'll have a firm release date for Minecraft Battle soon – hopefully by E3 at the latest. Are you guys excited about the chance to fight to the last in Minecraft?