Math Magic. (arcade-type educational game from MindPlay) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
Sometimes, it doesn't pay to be subtle, especially when designing educational games. Many titles work so hard to clearly disguise their lessons that they simply forget to have fun. As a result, kids don't learn because they're not drawn into the action. MindPlay tackles this problem head-on with Math Magic, an educational arcade game which proves that fast-paced fun need not be mindless.
Designed for ages 4 through 9, this one-player game takes its cue from the arcade classic Breakout. The game also appeals to youngsters' attraction to wizards and dragons by setting the action in the Land of Magic. You play Wizrow, a powerful sorcerer and collector of mythical beasts. One morning, you awake to find that your herd of friendly dragons is missing, held captive in the cold dungeons of the evil Doomlord. Using magic fireballs and the flat side of your wand as a paddle, you must break through the dungeon walls to free your beloved pets from the dungeons.
You'll need more than a sharp eye and quick hand to succeed in your quest, however. At random points during the game, Doomlord halts the action to challenge you with a mathematical problem. Points are scored for answering correctly and for each brick removed from the dungeon wall. Knock down the entire wall to set your dragon free, but don't rest yet: There are 15 more dungeons waiting to test your math and demolition skills. The game's arcade elements are well designed and attractive, rendered in 256-color VGA, but with no sound card support. Although the keyboard can be used to control paddle movement, a mouse offers much faster response. One caveat: Game speed goes ballistic at the highest skill level (age 9) when the game is playe on a fast CPU. Rookie gamers will need to beware!
MindPlay's hallmark is its Challenge Upgrade, a two-step method of customizing gameplay to match each player's skills. Arcade elements that can be changed include the number of math questions asked during each round, paddle size, fireball speed, reward type, and number of fireballs per dungeon. The second step allows the adjustment of such math variables as equation size (two or three figures) and range (0-99), carrying and borrowing, and style (picture counting or numerical addition and subtraction). Parents can also develop personalized math tests to focus on potential problem areas. Finally, the program can chart the performance levels of up to five players.
Though relatively narrow in scope, Math Magic sets a well-defined goal and achieves it brilliantly. Top-notch arcade action and variable skill levels assure a long-lasting challenge.