Minecraft has already proven itself to be one of the most successful games of all time, and still shows no sign of slowing down under the newly shared custodianship of Mojang and Microsoft. In fact, their most recent update for Minecraft, Better Together, transforms the game into the best version of itself yet.
Naturally, when a game like Minecraft does well, everybody else wants to cash in on a slice of the lucrative survival-crafting pie, and dozens upon dozens of titles have attempted to put their own stamp on the formula to varying results. This has unfortunately created a swathe of shovelware on PC and mobile, with the phrase “Early Access Survival Crafting” now tarnished by cheap imitations and shameless husks of the Minecraft formula.
But for every barrel of bad apples, there’s one rosy red granny smith of a game to be found; one which can appeal to the Minecraft crowd while simultaneously offering a (fairly) novel and worthwhile experience in and of itself. Here are our favourite picks of the bunch.
Why it's similar: The Forest drops you in the middle of the wilderness (quite literally: you crash a plane) and forces you to craft weapons and shelter to survive against an apparently nocturnal tribe of cannibals. It's totally like playing Minecraft - if Minecraft's creepy hissing spiders were bloodthirsty savages trying to eat you.
What makes it unique: The Forest is far scarier than Minecraft would ever want to be. There’s a real Green Inferno vibe underscoring the whole thing, what with you being lost in the wilderness scavenging for food, building shelter from the weather, and fighting off aggressive club-toting locals. But what makes The Forest truly terrifying is when the natives get the upper hand, knocking you out and dragging you back to their underground lair. You wake up, trapped in the darkness with a lighter that barely works, surrounded by a zoo’s worth of horrific creatures waiting to pounce on you from the shadows. Welp.
Why it's similar: In its ridiculously popular online sandbox, Roblox lets you create just about anything that you can think of. Want to build a massive skyscraper only to watch it blow up in spectacular fashion, or host a disco party complete with flashing lights and an on-stage DJ? Go for it. The world is yours to do what you will with it, and the possibilities are endless thanks to the game's intricate editing tools.
What makes it unique: RoBlox puts a huge focus on the social aspects of building and dismantling with friends. Virtually everything in the world is created by the players, making the game perfect for those who enjoys the team camaraderie of construction. There are already thousands of player-created worlds with themed communities and many lofty building goals, so hop in now if you want to partake in the madness.
Why it's similar: If it wasn't for the realistic in-game water, you'd probably mistake Terasology for Minecraft itself. The game has all of the aesthetic elements of Mojang’s original trend-starter, right down to the blocky hands and punchable cubes of dirt.
What makes it unique: Terasology is an open source game, so if you’re someone who likes to dive right in and contribute to the development and expansion of a community project, it’s a win-win scenario. Aside from world destruction and building elements of Minecraft, Terasology does boast its own unique features, including the ability to build up armies of loyal minions to defend your works. The game is under constant development, too, so there's no telling how it might change and evolve going forward.
Why it's similar: Many a tree will be slaughtered on your way to building shelter when first starting out in the world of Terraria. But it’s a necessary sacrifice; much like in Minecraft, there are things that go bump in the night. Things that would very much like to slay you, actually, even as you try to figure out what to do with your steadily increasing pile of natural (and supernatural) resources.
What makes it unique: Variety is the name of the game in Terraria. Naturally, this means there are many ways to die, but this also gives you more options when it comes to disposing of the encroaching evil. Crafting is more than just a means of security against the persistent dangers of the world, but opens up avenues for discovering Terraria’s many layers of secrets and rewards.
Why it's similar: Although it's a strategy game, Castle Story’s strong focus on tactically overpowering your enemies doesn't mean you won't also be building all manner of structures in the process. The need to partake in mass deforestation is also a shared trait with Minecraft, but it’s all for a good cause; that good cause being an impenetrable castle entirely made out of wooden blocks.
What makes it unique: Castle Story focuses heavily on your character’s strategic operations and, as with most real-time strategy games, you'll have to send out troops to gather resources. Instead of simply clicking on an icon to build something, however, players actually get to design their own defenses, in what quickly turns into a wonderfully addictive marriage of creativity and tactics.
Why it’s similar: With all the large-scale construction going on, it’s easy to forget that Minecraft features the chance to indulge in the underrated joys and small victories of owning and caring for a garden, or even a full blown farm. Stardew Valley is an entire game revolved around that very same idea.
What makes it unique: In contrast to Minecraft, players in Stardew Valley can get to know their local community of fictional characters, and even spark up a romance with some of their neighbours if they want to. The game also takes inspiration from the likes of Animal Crossing and hardcore shooters as much as it does Minecraft, if you can believe it, and that hybridity of form keeps it from leaning too heavily into one single genre.
Ark: Survival Evolved
Why it’s similar: The clue’s in the title, really. While “Minecraft with dinosaurs” is probably a little too reductive of a description, it certainly gives you an idea of what to expect from Ark: Survival Evolved. You gain consciousness on the beaches of a mysterious island chock full of jurassic beasts, but it’s not long before your skills in crafting and combat come in handy in the quest to become king of the jungle.
What makes it unique: Name me one other game that lets you poop on command, and then use that poop as firewood. I didn’t think so. Ark is a game obsessed with darwinism and the hierarchy of nature, too, where you slowly make your way up the food chain, metamorphosing from a position of naked prey into that of an apex predator. It slowly becomes less of a survival game and more of a power fantasy, emulating the concept of evolution in a way that few other titles have.
Why it's similar: Cube World has its roots in crafting and character progression, and takes place in randomly generated worlds full of blocks as far as the eye can see. There’s a strong focus on cosmetic customization, with characters able to modify their armour and other wearables for the sake of fabulous self expression.
What makes it unique: Imagine the lovechild of Minecraft and The Legend of Zelda series raised by Super NES-era action RPGs. Inspired by exploration-heavy games, Cube World gives players an arsenal of skills to better help them trudge through the endless world. Choosing a class and specialization for combat turns the game from a simple exploration simulator into a meaty RPG adventure, packed with missions, bosses, and creepy caves to explore.
Why it’s similar: It’s a voxel game, so Trove’s resemblances to Minecraft are immediately apparent, at least from a visual point of view. Trion World’s action-oriented MMO features mines and caverns crawling with enemies and the promise of untold rewards, letting players team up with friends to progress their character and conquer Trove’s sizeable to-do list.
What makes it unique: Trove is more concerned with being an MMO than a Minecraft clone, with its extensive range of classes designed to facilitate and encourage variation in playstyle. It’s employment of loot, bosses and dungeons again draws from the well of RPG tropes to deviate from the conventions of its aesthetic inspiration.
Why it's similar: The tagline for Starbound is a pretty good summation of what to expect: "survive, discover, explore, and fight." Beyond that, an infinite universe means there are loads of possibilities in its generous heapings of 2D co-op gameplay, not least when it comes to shaping the world and discovering new locations to set up shop.
What makes it unique: Like all good stories, Starbound is more about the journey than the destination. Exploring the game with friends - whether it's just to farm, try your hand at space exploration, or create weaponry for quests - is designed to be enjoyable in itself, rather than just a means to an end. While it is an open-ended experience, the addition of quests and NPCs imbues the game with contextual purpose, unlike the narrative-free adventuring of Minecraft.