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Minecraft Dungeons is the low-stress family hackathon we need right now

Reasonably kid-friendly, mostly cooperative and therapeutic as hell. What more could you ask from a four-player dungeon-crawler?

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Dan Ackerman/CNET

It's one of those parenting moments where you have to make a tough call. I'm playing Diablo III on the big screen via the Nintendo Switch and my third-grader wanders over to watch over my shoulder. The game isn't especially gory, but it's certainly violent, with every scary-looking cliched fantasy bad guy you can imagine. It's not like having a family Resident Evil gaming session, but it's... intense. 

Sure we should all be playing peaceful games like Flower or Journey, but sometimes you just want to whack a bunch of things with a giant sword and/or axe. Trust me, kids feel the same way. That's why Minecraft Dungeons from Microsoft's Mojang Studios is such a perfect game for our currently tense locked-inside lifestyles. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

It combines the instant gratification of four-player sword-swinging with the all-ages playfulness of the Minecraft universe, already a cross-generational marketing phenomenon bar none. If Minecraft: Story Mode recast the building sandbox as a talky puzzle-solving exercise, Dungeons is the complete opposite, a largely wordless journey across mob-filled lands (save for some occasional disembodied narration) where button-mashing is the first and only survival skill to master. 

The biggest selling point of Minecraft Dungeons, available on Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch, is its four-way multiplayer. This is the same kind of local synchronous gaming that families, roommates or strangers at a house party (remember those?) are always looking for. Sure, you can play solo, or team up with people online, but the old everyone-shares-a-single-screen mode -- Gauntlet style -- is where the game shines. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

There's something lost by stripping Minecraft of its quiet moments of thoughtful terraforming and engineering. The world lacks that most basic level of Minecraft interactivity -- the ability to break bricks to create new pathways and reshape the terrain. That makes the Minecraft branding more like a reskin of countless other hack-and-slash games. 

But it's also a forgivable compromise if you're looking for a game for everyone to play -- together on the same screen, at the same time -- that won't bore adults or horrify kids. If I wanted to create a fully functioning city-sized integrated circuit out of basic rocks and minerals down by a lava pit, I've got regular ol' Minecraft to do that in. Now, I've also got someplace to go and bash some monster skulls, in an E10+ way, of course.