There are few descriptors in the modern gaming press as common and as unhelpful as referring to something as a ‘Minecraft clone’. Invoking Minecraft is an easy and SEO-friendly way to get most of your readers on the same page, but it’s just not as helpful as it once was. Voxel and low-poly aesthetics are increasingly common, while crafting and resource-gathering mechanics are making their way into more and more games across a variety of genres. More to the point Minecraft may have helped popularize (or re-popularize) some these things but it hardly invented them. And still, Minecraft remains the unnecessary short-hand comparison for a lot of games that could easily stand on their own. Case in point…
“It’s Minecraft but with guns.” If no one’s told you that exact line about Ace of Spades before now, then it may be a conclusion you’ll arrive at on your own based on a single glance at any given screenshot. Melee weapons, magic and archery are far and away the most popular weapons among these kinds of games, so frankly the fact that guns aren’t just included but are a major focus of Ace of Spades is enough to distinguish it.
The common refrain about Terraria, especially before it truly made a name for itself, was “Oh, it’s 2D Minecraft!” Well… That’s not quite the case. 2D Minecraft (which can be accomplished with a clever mod, naturally) is 2D Minecraft, and Terraria is a whole other beast. It has a ridiculously diverse and interesting arsenal of tools, weapons, and equipment for players to experiment with, not to mention multiple bosses and different world phases that can be triggered when you beat them. Minecraft is downright simplistic in comparison.
“It’s 2D Minecraft... In space!” Can you understand why I am so sick of people comparing things to Minecraft yet? Starbound definitely takes a few pages from Terraria (and has a few developers in common) but, while Terraria tends to feel more combat- and resource-focused, the biggest joy in Starbound comes from exploration. Rather than limiting players to a single world seed, the ability to essentially hop from seed to seed is woven into a mechanic of space travel. This makes it easier to share coordinates when you stumble across something particularly cool, and also means it doesn’t require 10 minutes of jogging in one direction if you get a little bored with your current base and want a change of scenery.
Free-to-play zombie survival MMO Unturned was one of the most-streamed games on Twitch for a while last year. It has just about everything you would want in a multiplayer survival sim along the lines of DayZ, but the comparisons to Minecraft couldn’t be farther from relevance. I mean, I guess the characters are sort of blocky. Let’s go with that.
Trove is a free-to-play balm for the broken hearts left in the wake of the glimmering little spark that was Cube World. It’s been so hard to let the Cube World dream die, but after an explosion of interest when it launched as a buy-in beta it seems like progress on the adorable voxel-based action game has dried up. Thankfully if you want to fight jerks, collect gear, clear dungeons, and run around a colorful little cube… land, then Trove has your back. Both of these games have loads more in common with 3D Dot Game Heroes than they do Minecraft, but you’ll hear that comparison made far less often.
Minecraft could only hope to have multiplayer world integration as easy and explorable as Cubic Castles’. Yet another free-to-play title, Cubic Castles has the resource gathering, crafting, and building that you expect, but with rounded edges, soft colors, cute characters, and an isometric camera that make it feel much more playful. The ability to plop down your own custom level in the overworld or hop into other players’ also makes this game
If you go into LEGO Worlds expecting a soulless cash-in on sandbox building games from a brand that maybe has more right to soullessly cash in on the genre than most, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised with what you find. Although it’s still in early access LEGO Worlds already has loads to do and see, and it’s ridiculously charming to boot. The Minecraft comparison might make a little more sense here, if LEGO hadn’t been in the colorful block-based play business for decades.
There are avid Minecrafters who are actually younger than this building-oriented sandbox MMO, which is coming up on its 10th anniversary soon. That’s… I was going to say more but, now I just want a drink.
Of all the games on this list Infiniminer probably resembles Minecraft the most, both visually and in how you’ll spend most of your time playing (spoilers: you’ll be mining). But there’s one very simple, very straightforward reason why Infiniminer is not a Minecraft clone: It came out first. In fact it’s often credited with giving Notch some ideas in terms of where to take his own game while it was still in development. Consequently it’s easy to imagine a parallel universe where this is a list about Infiniminer clones where I would have typed out a few dozen words in defense of Minecraft for entry number 9 instead.
When it comes to brick-based sandbox games the Minecraft comparison feels even thinner than usual. Blockland is clearly meant to evoke the feeling of playing with LEGO and/or plastic interlocking brick brand of your choice. Also, Blockland’s initial release predates Minecraft by five years. That’s got both Roblox and Infiniminer beat by a healthy margin. Not bad at all for a totally shameless clone, right?
Janine Hawkins is a games writer based in sunny Canada. You can find her written and video work on HealerArcherMage.com, or follow her on Twitter @bleatingheart.