The Minecraft Adventure Update turns out to be a campaign of smaller patches. Minecraft 1.8 overhauled the terrain engine, tweaked combat and added empty villages. A pre-release version of 1.9 puts people in those towns, adds a weird new mushroom land, and puts new monsters and structures in the Nether, Minecraft's hell dimension.
I've been playing around with it - here's what it's like.
Weird new mushroom land(opens in new tab)
This is a new terrain type you'll run into randomly in the wild: the ground is a spongey fungus, trees are replaced by huge shrooms, and the native cows look like they've been infested with fly agarics. It's certainly a sharp break from the deserts, forests and snowy mountains elsewhere, and it gives these zones a surreal, Morrowindy flavour.
They feel a little incongruous right now, though: they're so different that you wonder what they're doing there. I'm fine with Minecraft being a weird and surprising place, but it might be cool if these shroom-zones were only found near the edges of the world, or on isolated islands, or as part of larger biome patterns that marked out strange lands.
You'll be able to grow your own giant mushrooms by adding bonemeal to small ones, and it's fun to dig out the stem and hide inside the cap to make a little spongey house. So that's nice.
Villagers(opens in new tab)
Jesus. These guys are just creepy. They don't do anything yet, just wander around looking terrifying with their giant noses and angry stares. It'll be interesting to see what Mojang do with them - most of the other creatures that fill Minecraft's world have simple behaviours because they're simple creatures. People aren't - so will it feel weird if they just amble around like cattle? Right now it does, but it's early days.
Nether Forts(opens in new tab)
These are awesome. As someone intimately familiar with the Nether , I love the new feel it has now. Those vast procedurally generated caverns were always interesting spaces, but they're now criss-crossed with abandoned ramparts, towers and arches. There are even weird little farms in these strongholds, growing strange stalks of something.
They're not all abandoned - two new enemy types are lurking near some. The Nether now has its own equivalent of the bouncing cuboid slimes from the normal world: Magma Cubes. They uncoil like a spring when they jump, and divide into smaller cubes when hit. They're easy to avoid, though.
Trickier are Blazes: flying flaming heads that shoot fireballs in a three-round burst. They're like Ghasts, but angrier. If there's a good way to fight them, I haven't found it yet - it's almost as if hell is sort of unpleasant.(opens in new tab)
Minecraft 1.9 will be officially released once Mojang have had a chance to tweak any problems those playing the pre-release version have hit. If you want to try the pre-release for yourself, grab the minecraft.jar here , and replace your current one with it. Easiest way is to just search your hard drive for that filename.