Review: Personal Trainer: Math (Nintendo DS)

Personal Trainer: Math
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo Touch Generations
Genre: Educational Software
Release Date: 01/12/2009


A little over a month ago I reviewed the first of the Personal Trainer games, Cooking. I had a blast with it and so did most of my friends who cook either casually or professionally. It was a great piece of educational software and easily the best virtual cookbook I’ve ever seen. This was another wonderful outside the box idea from Nintendo.

Now I’m sitting here with Personal Trainer: Math in front of me. Unlike PTC, which was able to be enjoyed by all ages, PTM is geared for very young people, no older than third grade. It’s rudimentary addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. As I’m not calculus or trigonometry inclined, I felt comfortable playing this without having to recall Euclidean geometry’s Pythagorean theorem off the top of my head (Which is A squared + B squared = C squared thank you very much middle school!)

Math however is a hard thing for a lot of people to think of as “fun” or as a game. Was Nintendo able to re-create the same success they had with PT:C or in PT:M proof that lighting doesn’t strike twice?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

There’s not a lot to Math. There are only a few options to choose from, albeit it one of them has forty sub-choices to select from.

When you first turn on the game, you can choose between Daily Test, Kageyama Method and Practice Exercises. Daily Test can only be chosen once a day and it’s a quick (less than two minutes) taste of addition, subtraction and counting. It gets harder after completing 4-5 days of successful testing, but by harder I mean double or triple digit based math instead of single digits. It’s still all stuff you mastered by the time you were eight or nine.

Kageyama Method is simply a large grid of quick math problems you have to solve. It’s a combination of speed and accuracy, but again these are fairly simple addition, subtraction, or multiplication problems. You also have a choice of division, but that’s a speed test of long division rather than the actual Kageyama method of speed math, so I have no idea why they put that under this category.

Practice Exercises offer the most variety, but in truth there is not much here. There are eight levels of challenges, with five different activities to do per level. You would think level eight would hard math puzzles, but the number belies the truth. In fact, the “hardest” level choices are the following: Sums of Ten, Sentence Sums, Missing Number Addition, Missing Number Subtraction, and Missing Number Multiplication. Here’s an example from Missing Number Addition and remember – THIS IS THE HARDEST LEVEL IN THE GAME:

47 + XX = 63.

……….

Yeah. I know. As I’ve been saying, this is a game for single-digit aged children.

And that’s it. THESE are your options. This is pretty weak compared to how diverse PT:C was. There’s so little to do here. Forty practice exercises sounds like a lot but each “game” is only about 15-45 second long. You can finish off the entire cart in under three-four hours and that’s being generous. Compared to Personal Trainer: Cooking, this was pretty underwhelming.

Modes Rating: Poor

2. Graphics

This is a pretty ugly game. Now I don’t mean that because the graphics are unimpressive. This is educational software – graphics are what this game is about. What bothers me are the background colors and styles. Personal Trainer: Math is a very garish looking game. Green, Pink and a ruddy orange are your color options – the only colour options and they clash terribly. You would have to be colourblind to not be disturbed by the choice of colours here.

There’s no real graphic representations here other than words, an occasional medal and Dr. Hideo Kageyama’s animated representation. It’s just backgrounds, numbers and writing numbers. Flash cards will have rudimentary pictures here, but they’re NES-early SNES level quality.

As I said at the beginning of this section – this is an ugly game. Bad colors, bad graphics, bad backgrounds; bad everything. Again, even though I found this to be ugly, the key thing to remember is that it’s educational software and it’s designed to teach math – not compete with Gears of War 2 visuals.

Graphics Rating: Bad

3. Sound

The sound aspects of Personal Trainer: Math are pretty underwhelming as well. There is only a single music track and it’s pretty annoying. I eventually turned the sound of my DS off so I would have to listen to it. I found it easier to have Starrcade: The Essential Collection in the background than the music from this game.

In turn the sound off I wasn’t missing much in the way of sound effects either. You get a noise for getting a problem right, a noise for getting a problem wrong, a buzzer when you finish all ten problems in your activity and old school MIDI bleating that represents Kageyama-San’s talking. I’m sorry, but this entire title feels like a rushed cop-out to build off the success of PT:C. Usually sound is one area, like Square-Enix, where Nintendo excels. Nope, not here. Personal Trainer: Math is better left unheard. As you can see, PT:M is notching up disappointment after disappointment in each category, and the most annoying is yet to come.

Sound Rating: Bad

4. Control and Gameplay

One of the most common detractions I hear about both the Wii and DS is that only first party titles have spot on controls. Third party titles are usually worse in this regard by a great deal. I’ve always disagreed with the belief that there are no third party Wii/DS games with tight controls but now I have proof that even Nintendo has problems with touch screen detection with their titles. Personal Trainer: Math features the worst stylus/writing recognition I’ve ever encountered on the DS. The best? Ubisoft’s My XXX Coach games. Imagine that.

All you have to do is write the numbers 1-9 and 0. You would think with only ten things to recognize, PT: M would be able to have perfect recognition, but that’s not the case. It rarely recognized my 3’s right away, instead thinking they were 2’s. My 4’s were often taken as 11’s, my 5’s as 4’s or 21’s, my 6’s and 8’s, my 8’s as 6’s and 7’s as 1. Thank god there was the clear button and a bit of a time delay before accepting my work, or I’d have felt really stupid getting basic one or two digit math problems wrong. I’ll admit my cursive isn’t the best, but my print is fine and if I’m able to do Chinese and Japanese characters in their respective games, then I THINK I can properly write the number one. Alas, the game’s ability to properly recognize numbers is beyond awful and as such there are many times where I would miss the 15 or thirty second “goal time” mainly because I had to clear my answer a few times before the number was properly recognized. THIS is beyond annoying and seriously, shame on Nintendo for not fine tuning this more.

This is basically all the gameplay is: writing in the correct numbers. When this is all that you do in the game and the game has more than a 50% negative detection rate, then there is no excuse for this game passing quality assurance testing.

Unacceptable.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Bad

5. Replayability

Well, the game’s Daily Test does encourage replaying the game regularly. However, as the daily exercise is 45 seconds long (Goal time. Real time may take longer.), it’s hard to really say there is replay value to this title. None of the exercises are over a minute and even the 100 cell Kageyama work shouldn’t take more than five minutes and that’s if you’re a person that needs to count on your fingers when doing double or triple digit multiplication.

There are over forty types of exercises you can do, but consider the brevity of them and the fact anyone older than nine will breeze through this game without a second though, there’s no replay value unless you’re using this game as makeshift flash cards before your big 7’s times tables test next week. Small children though will get a good deal of use out of this, even if they’d rather be playing Pokemon

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

6. Balance

Okay, bad writing detection plus math you wouldn’t think twice about once you hit middle school equals a pretty poor balance. It would have been great to see higher level math problems for teenagers or adults. You could take a pre-game test like My Japanese Coach or My Chinese Coach and then start on a level that best fits your accuracy. If those games could fit 1,000 language lessons into them, why couldn’t Personal Trainer: Math do more than forty math exercises? I feel really bad dragging Nintendo over the coals here, but bloody hell, this entire game is shoddy and it reeks of a cheap attempt to make a buck of unsuspecting gamers.

For single aged kids, this game may prove frustrating due to the poor writing detection and for anyone older this game will be more boring than watching a dirt mound due to the simplicity of the problems. Nintendo really should have made this more all encompassing or made it pretty clear this is only for elementary school students.

Balance Rating: Bad

7. Originality

On the surface, Personal Trainer: Math seems like an innovative title for the DS, but on further inspection, it’s really not. There are many games that teach basic math skills like Brain Age. Dreamcatcher released a superior math tutorial called Learn Math that is for the same age group but with a more diverse set of exercises (and a nifty vampire theme). There are also two different SAT games that have math options which, again, are far superior to this game. As you can see, Personal Trainer: Math is neither original…nor very good. There may not be a lot of math teaching titles for the DS, but PT:M is the worst of the lot, in addition to being the newest.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

8. Addictiveness

Unlike Dreamcatcher’s Learn Math which presents math in a fun and entertaining way with a running vampire’s castle theme and some clever puzzles for kids, Personal Trainer: Math does nothing but give you basic math equations in a cold sterile environment. There’s not attempt to make learning fun here. I can understand that approach, but I also know it’s going to keep kids from being excited to pick up this title. “Yay! Math problems that are just like the ones I do in school. Oh wait…”

Kids will get bored quickly, which is impressive considering how short these series of ten exercises are. Adults will get bored even quick due to how there is no challenge here. If you’re 18 or older and you can to 8 times 9 without thinking, you should hang your head in shame. Seriously.

This might work as a game across the pacific, but this is one of the most sterile and boring educational titles I’ve ever played. I would only advise this for parents trying to teach their kids VERY basic math, but even then only with a disclaimer that children will find this pretty boring even if you’re disguising math as a video game.

Addictiveness Rating: Dreadful

9. Appeal Factor

I can give this a complete thumbs down because the game is playable and some people really do like no frills math. Still, 95% of the people who play this will be utterly bored due to the lack of diversity and the writing detection issues that plague this game. Again, I hate to sound like a shill for Dreamcatcher, but if you are even remotely interesting in buying this game for your child, go get Learn Math instead.

Which brings me to a different tangent. Out of all the information I’ve seen about this game, not once has anything said, “THIS IS FOR VERY SMALL CHILDREN.” Even in the three different press releases that accompanied this game, Nintendo has made this sound like a title anyone could enjoy. The truth is, only the very young or very dumb could get something out of this, and in both cases, there are better math tutors for your buck.

Appeal Factor: Dreadful

10. Miscellaneous

At only $19.99, Personal Trainer: Math is modestly priced as a budget title. This however, does make it a good game. As mentioned earlier there are other math games for sale on the DS at the same price and that are far superior to this title. Even with budget pricing, this is a pretty pathetic title in every way possible. I’m actually embarrassed that Nintendo put this out. I get where they were coming from and I love that Nintendo is trying to expand gamers into realizing games can be educational, but this is a huge step in a wrong direction in the same way that Personal Trainer: Cooking was so very right.

Huge thumbs down here. There’s no way this should have been released. But with Nintendo’s name and marketing behind it, it’s going to sell decently, much to the chagrin of the better math titles out there. Do not buy this title unless you can’t find Brain Age or Learn Math and even then only buy it if your very young child needs that extra match practice outside of school. Shame on you Nintendo.

Miscellaneous Rating: Worthless

The Scores
Modes: Poor
Graphics: Bad
Sound: Bad
Control and Gameplay: Bad
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Bad
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Dreadful
Appeal Factor: Dreadful
Miscellaneous: Worthless
FINAL SCORE: BAD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Personal Trainer: Math is as bad as Personal Trainer: Cooking was amazing. With writing detection issues that make even the simplest math problems a chore, I have to wonder how this game made it past quality control. Compounding the problem is that this game features rudimentary math problems that wouldn’t give a nine year old pause, and you have a dry, unpalatable title that is overshadowed by other math tutor games for young children, chief of which is Learn Math. Only a fool or a sucker would pick up this title and it is my sincere hope dear reader, that you are neither.

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