With some annoying delays on all of my own projects (some are my fault, some only kind of my fault), I thought I’d do a little reviewing instead, for now. A few days ago I finally filled a gap in my FOSS gaming education, and downloaded one of the most famous of those games – SuperTuxKart. Despite my initial skepticism, I ended up loving it.
Initial impression: Language trouble
The beginning wasn’t very promising. The game automatically chose to use the system’s default language – a reasonable choice. The problem is, my system language is Hebrew (I don’t even know why, my OS is in English), and unlike most software, SuperTuxKart has a Hebrew translation. And like most (if not all) software with a Hebrew translation, it mostly resides in the area between “goofy”, going through “horrible”, all the way to “completely broken”.
Some pieces of text are possible, but sound bad (“eat one’s dust” is a proper English phrase, but it doesn’t work in Hebrew), some are obvious machine translations (my favourite: of two instances of the word “squash”, both get comically mangled in different ways – the rubber ball is apparently made of pumpkin, and the swatter is… something ungrammatical involving racquetball), and some break because of the right-to-left writing (notably, it makes sense to leave names untranslated if you translate from English to French; To Hebrew, it brings single lines with both Hebrew and Latin letters, and that’s a guaranteed bi-directional fail).
Also, just to add insult to injury: They’re actually inconsistent about the Hebrew spelling of their own game’s name.
Moral of the story – don’t publish a translation if no one on your dev team actually plays the game in that language.
The actual game
However, after having that little laugh, I could start experiencing the actual game, and it’s very good. First, a little about where I come from – I have virtually no experience with kart racing games, maybe one or two attempts at Mario Kart on a friend’s Wii. Most of my racing experience is on Stunts, Micro Machines, and Redline Racer. So some of what I say about this game might be just generally about the kart genre.
– The driving physics: At first I was a little unimpressed, the driving felt a little boring and uneventful. Then I discovered the “fast turn” button – that made all the difference. For me, that option is what really brings some excitement to the game, allowing some fast driving through twisty areas, which requires some skill.
– Tracks: Quite well made. Most initial tracks are pretty simple driving, but later, especially with the unlockable ones, it gets much more interesting. I think not many tracks provide a unique driving experience (mostly the lighthouse track, the mini-golf track, math class track, and the stars track. But I think I still haven’t unlocked everything) (Update (28.5.2012): Having unlocked everything, I can now say that it’s only true for the initial tracks. Almost all of the unlockable tracks are much more unique and interesting to drive) .
– In-game appearance: Not the strongest point. The tracks mostly look like they’re a bit short on polygons. On the other hand, I don’t really like what Mario Kart looks like, so maybe it’s just the style. I do like the themes, though – almost every track does have a unique visual feeling to it. If they were also prettier, it would really be great.
– UI appearance: The menus look very good, kind of unusual for FOSS games. The UI is both polished, and has a consistent style. I could certainly believe it’s the UI of a professional game. However, some parts outside the menus (like the result panel, and the unlocking screen) feel much less polished.
– Music: Excellent. I don’t know if it was written especially for the game or those are public domain tracks they borrowed, but they sound very good and some of the songs are very fitting for the tracks they play on. One thing I would consider changing – maybe try to make smoother loops in the music. The music is often much shorter than the driving, and then the music noticeably stops and restarts. If the music would be written or edited to have continuously loopable parts, it would sound much better.
– Replayability: The challenge system is very good, giving some good reason to keep playing the game. Too bad there’s no achievements though (I love achievements).
– Multiplayer: Unfortunately, no net-based multiplayer. And I don’t have a big screen to play it on. I hope it will come in the future.
Conclusion: Excellent game. Very recommended if you like the type. Even though they’re not in version 1.0 yet, it’s one of the few FOSS games I feel really looks polished like an actually completed game.
 A little note about Hebrew translation, for you major language speakers – with so few speakers who almost always speak English as well, no one really sees a point in translating stuff to Hebrew. Thus, Hebrew speakers are used to having no translations, and always use software in English. Then, when people do translate stuff to Hebrew, Hebrew speakers by habit don’t use it so no one notices any horrible mistakes. So translations stay bad, users keep not using them, and the cycle of poor quality is complete.
 Of course, some modern games have a very liberal interpretation of the word “achievement” that could count the challenges as such, but I don’t like it. For me, achievements are supposed to note unusual behaviour in the game, not ordinary successes.