If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Minetest is flattery done really well. So much so that most people would probably have to look closely and/or do a double take to realize that it is not the actual Minecraft. Minetest is a project that has been going on for 10 years or so, so it has had a lot of time to be finessed and perfected, and it shows.
But let’s start at the beginning: you will have heard of Minecraft, an indie game which has become a global phenomenon. Minecraft is a virtual environment that you can interact with, where the objectives, if there are any, are open ended, and where you can alter the environment using the LEGO style blocks that make up the Minecraft world to build your own structures and combine them to make useful tools and objects. Minecraft is also multiplayer game, with numerous players simultaneously exploring the same worlds, and communities creating mods, skins, and tweaks. And so is Minetest, I am happy to say.
Although we’ve written about how you can play Minecraft free, the free version is a limited, early development version that delivers a limited subset of the mature Minecraft experience. Minetest, on the other hand, is the real deal, for free. (Or, I should say, as good of a copy of the real deal that you could ever hope to get).
I consulted a Minecraft expert in order to get to grips with Minetest. My son (age ten) is obsessed with Minecraft (for good or for ill), and knows the game well. What I learned from him is that Minetest and Minecraft are remarkably similar, not in the sense that, say, Chimps share 99% of human DNA, but more like if a handful of aspects of Minetest were tweaked it would be the exact same game, verbatim.
Here are some impressions from my expert:
- First off, my son was very impressed with the default Minetest texture pack. His first reaction: “wow, I hope there’s a Minecraft texture pack like this”
- Behavior: very similar in most ways, but every now and then something will behave differently (e.g. no oxygen gauge in Minetest for when you’re underwater, more animations in the original Minecraft, contact with some negative objects, like cacti, sustains less damage.
- The one overarching difference? It is much harder to die, in Minetest, than in Minecraft, I am told. Apparently random baddies (especially during nighttime) are a lot more frequent occurrence in Minecraft than they are in Minetest.
- Mods: as Minecraft has hobbyists creating mods and tweaking the game experience, so with Minetest. Except installing these is significantly easier with Minetest. Also, invariably, there are quite a bit more mods for Minecraft that are out there and being created.
- Tool-making is apparently exactly the same in the two games. If you know what blocks/elements to combine to create a tool in Minecraft, it works the exact same way in Minetest.
- Setting up and/or joining a server: a breeze with Minetest.
- One potentially serious flaw, however, occurs in multiplayer, where at times interaction between players can be laggy and/or glitchy. For example where on one screen the characters seemed like they were facing each other, on the other screen the character was in a different spot.
If you don’t want to fork out $25 for Minecraft and your son/daughter really wants to try it, Minetest is exactly what you need. Alternately, if you are burning with curiosity and want to know what the Minecraft thing is all about, try out Minetest and you will be extremely pleased. It delivers a carbon copy of the Minecraft experience, completely free of charge.
But there’s a difference between the two. Minecraft has momentum that Minetest cannot easily replicate. Minecraft gamers eagerly anticipate the Minecraft updates, and there are amateur and commercial servers all over the place that propagate the Minecraft experience as well as tweak and modify it, on a much grander scale than Minetest can deliver. There are Minecraft mobile apps and a Minecraft economy, which contribute largely towards shaping the phenomena that is Minecraft.
But that’s not to say that Minetest is not an excellent game. It totally is, and we highly recommend it. We do hope that player interaction in multiplayer would be finessed in future versions, though.
[Thanks go to reader Panzer for the tip about this game]
Get Minetest here (Windows, Linux, Mac).