Ace Mathician Review
Goodbye Galaxy Games
DSi/3DS (DSiWare download)
July 12, 2012 (USA)
Edutainment has gotten a bad rap over the years. Unless your theme song is sung by Rockapella or your name is Bill Nye, your educational entertainment tends to end up unentertaining and, a fair amount of the time, uneducational.
Shows like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? And Bill Nye the Science Guy were successful because they were entertaining first and educational second.
Actually, that’s not true. Now that I think about it, they were just geography and science lessons wrapped up in entertaining presentations. The educational bit definitely came first, even if the entertainment was up to par.
Whatever. The point is, Ace Mathician puts gameplay before education.
In each stage, you’ll guide a koala (Ace) through a one-room platforming obstacle course. Reach the fruit and you’ve cleared the stage. Pick up the stars along the way, and you’ll make progress towards unlocking extra stages.
But wouldn’t you know it, it’s not that easy. Ace may be pretty good at jumping, but not that good. He’ll need some help to reach that fruit. (Ace is a boys’ name, right?)
Enter math. Using the options at the bottom of the screen, you can adjust the y positions (height) of the blocks outlined in red. Some of the other stages will allow you to change blocks’ x positions instead. Hit the checkmark, and the world will be transformed.
So, each stage consists of you experimenting with the options you’re given. Each stage has a unique set of operators and numbers to use.
The transformation above is intuitive because all of the blocks start at y = 0. It’s pretty easy to see what happens when you put in a sine wave with an amplitude of 2. Because the blocks started at a y position of 0, they’ll go as low as -2 and as high as 2.
The thing is, when blocks are in odd positions like (4, -8) or something like that, it can be hard to predict what will happen when you put in an equation. If you set the equation to y = 3, then all blocks will move up 3 squares, moving that block to (4, -5). It makes sense on paper, but it took me some getting used to, especially with the more complicated functions like sine.
And for better or worse, trig functions like sine and cosine are pretty rare. You also don’t get to let y and x interact very often, either; it’s rare that you can have an equation like y = x. Usually it’s just a horizontal or vertical line, like y = 4 or x = 1 – 9.
If you really need this game to be educational, the pixelated Lisa Frank aesthetic is the nail in the coffin. When I was learning algebra, most of my schoolyard chums wouldn’t have been caught dead playing something that looked like this. I’ll admit that few of the ladies might have gone for it, to be perfectly sexist.
Currently, I find the graphics appealing, and the music is nice and catchy, too. I was surprised by how chill the cave theme is. If you dig SNES-style synths, keep the volume up for this one.
I guess we can scrap the idea that it’s edutainment, then. To be fair, aside from putting “Math” in the title, the developer doesn’t really bill it as an edutainment title. To quote his press kit, “You might learn something!”—emphasis on the “might.” I don’t want to say it’s devoid of educational value, but it won’t exactly help you pass high school algebra.
As a game where you mess around and move blocks, though, it’s pretty engaging. For instance, one common enemy is the watermelon seed-spewing monkey. This guy will shoot watermelon seeds straight forward. Blocks can, er, block the seeds. On a regular basis, you’ll need to concoct some way to move blocks to block those seeds. Or, if you’re lucky, you can kill an enemy by crushing it with a block or by dropping it onto a bed of spikes.
The potential here is justly limited by the four options you’re given at the bottom of the screen. You can only use the numbers, operators, and functions you’re given in that stage; you’ll have to be creative with what you’ve got. If you could just move stuff anywhere, well, there wouldn’t be much of a game.
And hey, in the end, you will at the very least be more comfortable with the Cartesian coordinate system. Moving blocks around on a y-by-x grid will give you a good sense for how Cartesian coordinate space works.
- It’s fun just to move blocks around and see what happens. Experimenting is great, and there’s plenty of room for it.
- There are multiple solutions to each level depending on your skill set. You can try to kill all of the enemies by moving blocks, or if you’re fast enough, you can deftly dodge their attacks.
- $2 on the DSiWare shop—it doesn’t get much more affordable than that. For $2, you could buy a copy of Ace Mathician, use it as a coaster, let your dog chew on it, and set it aflame before buying a new one. That is, you could do all that if this was a physical cartridge and not a digital download.
- Nice-looking retro graphics and cool-sounding SNES-style music.
- A little organization and some more ideas would’ve gone a long way. What if there was a world dedicated to the circle formula? Okay, maybe I’m asking too much of a $2 game.
- There are a few typos that are crucial. For instance, in the final stage of the extra world, the game says that you can modify the x positions of blue blocks. However, you end up modifying their y positions. Bear in mind that this is rare, but it can be confusing.
- Production quality could be higher. The menu buttons don’t visually react to your presses, and some animations seem to go really fast. For instance, Ace’s idle animation looks like it goes about two or three times too fast.
Greg gave Ace Mathician for the 3DS and DSi a 50% rating. For any of you DS owners out there, have you played this game before and can you agree with him?