Minecraft: Story Mode – Episode 6: A Portal to Mystery takes us back to Telltale’s imagining of the world of Minecraft. We’ve saved the world from destruction, then saved the citizens of Sky City, now we have to not get murdered by YouTubers. Yes, it’s quite different this time around. The concept and story are well done, but ultimately your enjoyment will be largely tied to how you feel about the guest stars.
The Continuing Adventures
Minecraft: Story Mode Episode 5 left us with Jesse, Petra, Ivor, and Lucas finding themselves on the other side of a strange portal. This episode tells a very self-contained story, despite being billed as the first entry of a new trilogy. Jesse’s group notes they are in a new world based upon the sight of two moons in the night sky. They find an invitation to a mansion and fight their way through hordes of monsters to get there.
What ensues at the mansion is reminiscent of Clue, the 1985 movie based on the classic Hasbro board game. A bunch of strangers are invited to a mysterious home, and people start getting murdered. Other invited guests are all popular (I assume) streamers of Minecraft, CaptainSparklez, Stampy Cat, Stacy Plays, DanTDM, and LDShadowLady, along with a couple other characters who sound like they are YouTubers but are just creations for the game. Somebody going by the name White Pumpkin takes responsibility for the killings, and it is quickly determined that one of the supposed invitees is really behind it all. This makes for a much different take on the series than the looming threat of global annihilation seen in Episodes 1-4, but I found the change of pace and narrowed focus refreshing. The action is a lot more sparse, giving way for the intrigue of detective work. Unfortunately, doing my best Sherlock Holmes impression in A Portal to Mystery typically meant looking at a painting then punching it to find a secret passageway.I think it’s natural to try to guess who the perpetrator is in a whodunnit, and though I took a guess, incorrectly, I never had a sporting chance. It was disappointing that no real hints were dropped about the killer’s identity, and I don’t believe it is possible to decisively say who it is until it becomes obvious as part of the story.
YouTube stars take center stage
Hearing that Episode 6 would prominently feature various Minecraft YouTubers was worrisome to me. Few things in life make me feel older than the rise of the YouTube celebrity. I don’t follow any of these people, and had only even heard of two of them before this. I was nervous that much of the plot would be wasted, in my opinion, on fan service and in-jokes that I have no connection to. As it turns out, that apprehension was justified.Moments definitely exist where a line is obviously meant as a joke that I’m not privy to, but usually context clues fill in the gaps. Not being part of the in-crowd meant I wasn’t laughing at a good chunk of the laugh lines like fans of CaptainSparklez. Knowing where the winks and nods were being made doesn’t feel as good as it would if I had background knowledge about them. One character asks if another’s hair color was different last time we saw them, just a minute ago. I hadn’t noticed, but going forward I did pick up that his hair color was different from scene to scene. I don’t remember which YouTuber it was, because to me they’re just random people, but I could assume that this particular streamer changes his hair color frequently. That’s the kind of reference you’ll endure if you don’t know who these people are.
Bringing these people in to play themselves was the most questionable choice. They could have easily lent voices to original characters, while still bringing their fans into the mix. Instead, it’s hard to take the story about people getting murdered very seriously when Jesse has to call somebody Stampy Cat like it’s totally normal.
Due to the self-contained nature of the story, I can’t see how any of the decisions I made in A Portal to Mystery could possibly affect the future story. I don’t really even see a narrative-based reason to bring back any of the surviving YouTube personalities. None of the decisions made were the gut-wrenching choices I’ve come to expect from Telltale Games, instead focusing on whether or not I was friendly with a particular character or if I told another person to give back a stolen item.
Nothing I did felt like it would have any greater or lesser impact than had I chosen an alternative. I couldn’t have possibly saved anybody meant to die, nor could I let somebody die that I was supposed to save. The former is impossible and the latter just results in a game over screen. Given that this feels like a one-off story, I believe Telltale missed a chance to let players decide who lives and dies. It could have played out like Until Dawn, a game that can end with any, all, or none of the characters surviving, just on a smaller scale.
If you’re a fan of any of the YouTube stars who have roles in this episode, you’ll probably love A Portal to Mystery. For me, it was a bit of a letdown. I very much enjoyed the Season Pass, but found myself surrounded by a supporting cast that I was expected to be familiar with. This made Episode 6 very heavy on fan service to a community I have never been a part of. The idea of a murder mystery was great, but there was little for me to piece together myself and the big reveal came with no foreshadowing. I’m not sure where the next two episodes will take the story, but I hope it is more approachable for people like me, who like Minecraft but are not entwined with the Minecraft YouTube scene.