A Day With Charlie Junior

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I had an opportunity the other day to do some game playing with my son - so I had the constraint that the games had to be playable by a 7 year old, meaning favourites of mine like Fish Fillets were generally ruled out.

First up was the ever-popular Super Tux. The young lad was an experienced campaigner at this so it didn't hold his attention for too long. However, whilst we were playing, I did notice a number of things that I think need addressing in the game:

  • Complete lack of originality

    They have copied Mario down to the core. It's a clone with different graphics. Every Mario aspect (gameplay, enemies, etc) has a "skinned" equivalent in Super Tux. Really, it's one thing to be inspired by another game, but to clone it down to the last detail? I don't know, maybe I'm being harsh (after all, I'm a Freeciv fan) but I feel there's a big room for improvement in this regard. I especially don't like the fire flower; can't we come up with some good alternative upgrades?

  • Very unbalanced levels

    The first level is really easy - as it should be. However that quickly changes. After 3 or 4 levels I'm starting to struggle to complete them. After 7 or 8, I find myself quitting the game in frustration at missing another long-jump-to-narrow-platform. The game is completely unbalanced and way harder than it should be at an early stage. One of the reasons the Mario games worked so well is because they were very well balanced. The game never really got hard until about half-way through (and that's a lot of levels). There is far too much acrobatic jumping required in Super Tux. They need more levels where the acrobatics required are compensated for by having a floor to catch you so you don't die repeatedly. The level designs are just too unforgiving.

Moving on, we went with Super Tux Kart. This went down quite well with the young'un initially but interest quickly waned. Again, the culprit is the design of the levels/tracks, which are generally atrocious. One of the keys to the addictiveness of Mariokart was the simplicity of the majority of the tracks. They had straights and few tight corners, meaning you zipped around them, the nuance being in how to get around them with minimum slowdown. Super Tux Kart levels have no straights (none of them) and are all mazes. Just staying on the track can be a challenge. The AI itself is not challenging at all. The physics is diabolical (but this has been fixed in STK SVN which now uses the bullet physics engine). Still, a lot of work needs doing.


Going for something simpler but more complete, I installed Barrage and Those Funny Funguloids. I was having a great time but then I got a jab in the ribs and a stern look, so we moved on.

Bomb Attack (happypenguin entry) was the first game we played that he really got into. It is a well executed bomberman clone with cute graphics, although it is still a bit incomplete.

NJAM also was popular. It manages to give Pacman depth, an accomplishment in itself. Whilst he played those two games I had enough time for a nap!

Next up was Freedroid RPG. This game has some really lovely graphics - although the main character graphics look awful. It was a good game but there's a lot of reading required, a lot of talking. Also it's not exactly obvious what you need to do - places are mentioned but are not easy to find. The level of gaming knowledge required was just a level too high to retain the attention of a 7 year old.

The final and most popular game of the lot was Blob Wars: Metal Blob Solid. This 2D platform game looks nice, is fun to play, and is not so difficult that you find yourself repeating the same few seconds of gameplay over and over again - yet isn't so easy that it is boring to play.

All being said, I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't come up with more good Free gaming options. Other than stuff like GCompris and Tux Paint which he is starting to grow out of, it was difficult to find him a good Free Software game that held his attention yet didn't require a degree of experience beyond the reaches of a typical 7 year old. In the end, he spent most of his time on the Play Station 2 with Lego Star Wars (which was actually a lot better than I expected it to be).

Are there any obvious open source games I missed out? Suggestions welcome. :-)

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