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?

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
2 min read
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.