It’s been about a month since my last review, and I was itching to do another game, so the DieHard GameFAN staff gave me Ace Mathician since I was one of the few members on staff that owns a 3DS and is not currently bogged down with several reviews. I like math, and it appeared to be a cute game, so I was actually fairly excited for this. Before playing, I wanted to see what the developer and publisher had to say about the game, so I’d know what to expect.
The website describes the game as such, “Ever wondered why you needed to learn math in school? The answer is simple; to change the world! And that’s exactly what you get to do in this game! You play as a cute Koala named Ace who loves fruit! Unfortunately a few delicious pieces of fruit are just out of reach and you need to change the positions of the platforms to get to the fruit! You can change the positions of the platform by entering a math formula. There’s no right or wrong answer, every formula the player can come up with will have an effect on the world! Suddenly math becomes as fun as drawing! There are many possible ways to finish a level … be creative! Later levels will feature enemies and traps keeping the game challenging. And while your at it, you can collect stars for a better score!”
After clearing the game, I don’t know that I’d agree with that assessment. Yes, you are a koala; yes, you do need to gather fruit; and yes, you will be using numbers. But beyond that…
It is true that you use math to reach the exit, but only in a superficial manner. The top half of the screen shows Ace, your Koala friend, and you move her around with the D-pad or Circle pad, depending on your preference. The bottom half of the screen allows you to control colored platforms and move them according to a formula that you create using up to four pieces. For example, it may be stated that you will be moving along the y-axis and you may have the items sin, *, 2, and x available. So, you can make the following formulas:
These different formulas affect how those blocks move across the screen. Any formula that leads to a fraction between 0 and 1 will be treated as being equal to 0. But the way to success isn’t an understanding of math; it’s guessing the correct formula to get the blocks to do what you want. Understanding how specific concepts (like cos/sin/tan) work make that process quicker, yes, but you actually don’t really need to understand very much about math in order to get what you want. I wouldn’t say that there are no right or wrong answers, either, seeing as how some answers will get your koala squashed or dropped onto spikes or otherwise incapacitated.
The controls are okay for a game this cheap – seriously, it’s like two dollars – but it does get annoying when you’re working with edges. I found myself dying a lot in levels where I needed to move Ace to an edge so that she didn’t get squashed by a block or something; I’d end up falling or getting squashed more often than actually managing to get her where I needed her. My guess is that the controls are a bit too sensitive, or the coding was done more rigidly than I am used to in games, making the difference between “safe spot” and “don’t put her here, stupid” less intuitive. The game does at least warn you if you’re going to do something stupid that will get Ace killed. Also, it seemed like I had to press awfully hard when selecting numbers on the touch screen, and it was kind of annoying to have to keep switching between using the stylus and using the controls. I understand that with a game that utilizes the touch screen that’s going to happen, but on some levels it felt like I was doing it too much for it to be enjoyable.
I also wasn’t really sure how the difficulty was supposed to progress throughout the game. Were the levels supposed to be harder? There was one level in each “world” that you could unlock only by getting all the stars in all the other levels for that world, and an entire world that you could unlock only if you got all the stars from all the other worlds, but those levels weren’t any more difficult than the ones before – in fact, some were easier. I think I actually ended up spending the least amount of time on the unlockable world. But then there would be random levels that I found to be more challenging than any others in that world. It seems like the developers intended to make the game more difficult, because they added in the ability to control multiple platforms and more complicated math. At first you start out with addition and subtraction and by the end you also have sin/cos/tan – and enemies – which did admittedly actually increase the difficulty, but it didn’t feel like it was actually getting harder most of the time. I imagine this might be different for a younger player, however; after all, I’m a graduate student who will be taking multivariate statistics this coming fall, so one would hope that basic math and trigonometry would come easy to me. Still, it would have been nice to see levels that were multiple screens or required more than four numbers/operations to complete.
Despite all that, I actually kind of enjoyed this game. It’s not very long – I beat the game in about 45 minutes and cleared it completely in about another 30 – but it’s a nice little time waster, and I did feel motivated to get all the stars from each level. The menu music can get a bit annoying, but the graphics are definitely cute enough to keep you interested, despite not being the most graphically intense game ever. This game seems like it’s geared toward younger audiences (I’m talking pre-teens or even younger here, assuming they’re at an age that understands basic principles of math or can figure out patterns), so if you’re into more mature games, this isn’t for you. But the idea is original enough, and I think that if they actually expanded on this, they could end up making a game that could actually be useful in classrooms. I don’t know that I would still claim that it’s a real-life application of mathematical concepts, but it does seem like something that could get kids more interested in the subject when they start having to draw slopes. Heck, if they went really crazy and included more advanced math, I think I’d get a copy. The game is entertaining, despite its flaws.
Graphics: VERY GOOD
Sound: ABOVE AVERAGE
Control and Gameplay: POOR
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal Factor: AMAZING
Miscellaneous: ABOVE AVERAGE
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
The game has a few issues and isn’t quite what it advertises itself to be, but for $2, you really can’t complain. If you like figuring out patterns and have an hour or two to spend on a cute game, go for it. I’d actually recommend the developers put some more time into this and make it into a full-length puzzle game, because it’s something that I think people who like math would enjoy for a longer time than it currently offers, and kids in school might actually want to play once they get to the age that they’re doing slopes and related concepts in school. Then again, I’m all for using video games in an educational setting.