Minecraft is the product of Linus Torvalds, creator of the famous open-source operating system Linux, though for some reason he goes by an entirely different alias. It's a sentiment I can fully understand. Whenever I order things from sky-mall, I use an alternate name too. Usually Rick Berman.
Anyways, Minecraft differs from your typical game in that it's not finished yet. Actually I guess that makes it like most games released these days, but at least the creator is honest about its status. It's presently in what's called an "alpha" stage. This means that the core gameplay components are still under development. So any complaints that could be made about the game are really irrelevant since there's no guarantee they'll be present in the finished product.
Let's start digging, shall we?
1. The plot
You play as an unnamed person stranded in the middle of a seemingly endless, open world. You have no resources or tools other than what you can harvest/make for yourself. In a way, it's kind of like Robinson Crusoe, just without all the talking, indentured servitude, and blood-thirsty natives out for murder. There are things that are out for murder, just not racist caricatures of indigenous tribesmen.
Suffice to say, there is no plot. You're just a guy who builds things and murders animals indiscriminately before being murdered yourself. While there are some who might fault the game for this, they are also the same sort of people who miss the point. This is a game about surviving, digging, and building. We don't need an angst filled protogonist, nor do we need a compelling reason to dig. It's just fun to do.
2. The gameplay
The gameplay is another example of something that is easy to figure out, but difficult to master. Much like chess, Monopoly, and investment banking, there are levels of skill that can only be obtained through practice. Practice and being spontaneously murdered by that which lurks in the dark.
It controls much like a typical first-person shooter. Your initial game is going to be a mad scramble for wood (obtained by punching trees), dirt (obtained by punching dirt), and creating simple tools (by turning the wood into planks, turning some of the planks into sticks, and combining the two into your basic necessities). You kind of feel like a woodland MacGyver, converting raw materials into your means of survival.
Ultimately, you construct a small hovel as night falls. You huddle in terror as you start to hear things lurking just outside your walls. Then after what seems to be an eternity, you hear sounds of agony. Things dying. You break open a wall to find random feathers and arrows littering the ground. You take your tentative steps into the safety of daylight. Then there is an ominous hiss! An explosion and you die!
Upon respawning, you pick up the pieces (literally) and continue on. Perhaps you'll find a cave and go spelunking? Maybe you'll dig and make your own, using the rock you harvest to make better tools. You've worked your ways into the depths of the earth and you find pools of magma! During your endless digs, you've uncovered iron and coal. You've crafted better tools and torches to illuminate the dark earth. At the ends of a magma pool you spy diamond! With iron pick in hand you dig and dig until finally you have a clutch of precious diamond. You turn around and a wretched green face is staring you down. It hisses, expands, and explodes.
When you finally manage to make your way back to where you met an untimely end, you are horrified to find that all of your tools, all of your precious rock and ore, and more importantly, your precious diamonds were cruelly consumed by the uncaring heat of the magma.
Then, after many such encounters, you one day find yourself standing triumphant on a monument of your own crafting. Hundreds of stone, iron, and gold blocks went into its crafting. Every inch lit by torches to keep zombies, spiders, skeletons, and the feared creeper at bay. You stand boldly out at night, moonlight catching on your diamond armor. As you watch the various monsters of the dark jump helplessly at your gates. You are lord of Minecraft.
What else is there to do? You have scoured the land, traversed the seas in your boat, slain many creepers and harvested them to construct crude bombs. You have even used the mysterious red stone dust to create rudimentary machines. A greenhouse containing tilled earth grows wheat and the animals which spawn during the day provide endless supplies of meat and other materials.
That is when arcane thoughts slip into your mind. Feverish thoughts plague you until finally you cave in. Back in the depths of the earth, you carefully harvest obsidian with your diamond pick. With the dark stone in tow, you return to the surface and construct a shrine. No, a temple. In the center the obsidian is place in a peculiar formation. It is in all appearance a monolithic doorway. On the cusp of insanity, you ready your flint and iron and strike a flame in the center.
Instead of the comforting warmth of a fire, a swirling purple vortex fills the entirety of the frame. Maddening sounds emerge and you feel compelled to enter. With diamond sword in hand, you step forward as the conqueror you are. No earthly monster can stand against you. What creature on the other side could hope to do better?
There is a blur of purple. A thick haze overcoming your senses. That is when you realize things have taken a turn for the worse. You step out onto blood-red dirt and look at what awaits you. Magma pours for hundreds of feet from unknown sources. An endless sea of the stuff lays below as impossible islands of the strange red soil seemingly hover above. Golden blocks cling the the underside of these islands, casting a sickly glow.
That is when they are finally seen. On a nearby island you can make out their blasphemous form. Neither pig nor man. Not alive, but not quite dead either. They cackle in a combination of squeals and grunts. The pristine golden blades in their hands contrasts against their rotting pig-flesh.
It is now that you notice the screams. The horrible, endless screams like a thousand whores being flayed of their skin. There is a rush of air and an explosion behind you! In horror you realize that the dirt has caught a flame and the portal has been extinguished! You ready your flint and steel, hoping to reignite it, but a fireball suddenly bursts in front of you!
Following the direction the hellish projectile came you are greeted to the sight of the true rulers of hell. They float serenely like the clouds and are nearly just as big. Tentacles, bigger than a man, dangle from underneath. The leviathans appear indifferent until their eyes and mouths open, screeching and filled with hellfire and brimstone. They spit fire at you and you have no choice but to run from these ghastly things!
You run and run until finally there is nowhere to run. A massive wall stands before you and the ghasts float ever closer. Their screams always sounding as if they were next to you. It is then you remember your tools. That comforting pick is back in your hands. You start to dig. You dig a hole which no ghast could ever hope to enter. You dig and you dig until your pick breaks. There has to at least be a mile between you and the ghasts, yet their screams still follow you.
As madness begins to worm its way into your psyche, one final thought holds it at bay. A sudden realization could mean a way of escaping this nightmare. You seal yourself into a small space, using the recently excavated red dirt. With flint and iron in hand, you brace yourself for what must be done. You set yourself aflame.
When you reawaken, you are back on earthen ground. A dopey looking pig grunts at you and trees sway gently in the breeze. Yes, even the hell-world follows the same rules and your death has brought you back home. Those diamond tools and armor may be lost, but you can always make more. There is more pressing things to be done, however. The portal must be destroyed.
You race towards your palace. In a flash you navigate nearly forgotten halls and find your way to the store room. The spare diamond pick awaits you. You clutch it as if your life depends on it as you rush towards that arcane temple. That damned place where the portal lies. You will dismantle it piece by piece! You will...You will...
You will freeze in place. Horror overtakes you. Looming overhead in the interior of the temple is that massive white cube bearing that indifferent face. It opens it's narrow eyes and it's mouth utters that hellish scream. Before you are hit with the barrage of flame, it occurs to you that a door has been opened that can never be closed. You suddenly long for the days when a creeper was the worst threat you encountered.
-From the journal of one Harry S. Plinkett, discovered in the ruins of a massive castle. The obsidian portal of which he speaks stands partially broken and inactive. Mr. Plinkett, as well as the entity referred to as a "ghast," could not be found.