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Review(ish): Mathbreakers

We were first told about Mathbreakers a few months ago. It was at a very early stage of development, and it wouldn’t run on my PC. Now some time has passed, and I managed to run the most recent version last weekend. I’ve only played the demo, so a full review isn’t fair, but I thought I’d tell you about it in case you want to give it a go.

Warning: this post has like a bajillion animated GIFs in it. Your internet connection will suffer.

Mathbreakers is what I’d call an ‘edutainment’ game, though I think that term’s fallen out of favour. The developers, Imaginary Number Co., say it’s “a video game that teaches math through play”. It’s aimed at school kids, and deals with basic numeracy.

Anyway, it’s a third-person platformer/shooter in a world full of numbers. Bubbles containing numbers are your tools for defeating knocking down walls, operating machines, and defeating monsters.

You’re given several weapons, each of which does different things with the number-bubbles. First of all, the core mechanic is that throwing one bubble at another adds them:

Bubbles are scattered throughout the world. If you mess up and lose them or misuse them, it doesn’t matter because the original bubbles are replenished after a few seconds. That means that you’re free to experiment, and also that you need to know what you’re doing to solve a puzzle rather than just scattering bubbles around and trusting to luck.

The second weapon is a gun which shoots ten copies of any bubble you pick up. I’d be surprised if anyone didn’t immediately, on getting the gun, try to make a ridiculously big number.

It seems that 32999 is the biggest number allowed, and the addition operation becomes non-commutative when you get near to it. Why not just pop bubbles that get too big?

A rocket launcher adds a bubble to every number within a large radius:

Finally (as far as I’ve seen), there’s a sword which chops bubbles in half. But see if you can spot the deliberate mistake:

Again, I’d prefer it if the $\frac{1}{65536}$ bubble just disappeared when you cut it with the sword. You can get a $\frac{1}{2}$ bubble very easily by starting again, so why does the division wrap around?

I hope that the wrinkles in the game will continue to be smoothed out by further playtesting. For example, I was confused by this floating question mark when I first came across it…

… but it turned out that the message was referring to this lift a few metres away, which raises or lowers to a height corresponding to the number you put in its funnel.

Another little niggle is that the numbers in bubbles and other elements are often quite hard to read. The refraction shader on the cubes is particularly misleading:

But aside from all this, I had fun with Mathbreakers, and I’m not even the target audience.

Of course, all this maths fun secretly exists to teach children arithmetic, and games which attempt to do that abound. But most “fun with maths” games, MyMaths included, provide extrinsic motivation: do the maths, and then you get a reward. In Mathbreakers, the maths is the game, and the reward for doing it is more maths. Heaven!

Mathbreakers comes with a dashboard for teachers using the game in class, similar to that offered by systems such as Oxford University Press’s MyMaths. You can track students’ progress through the levels, and assign levels to individual students. Imaginary Number Co. has also created a few lesson plans on topics such as addition and fractions.

More information

Mathbreakers is available for Windows and Mac. The “full game” costs \$15, or there’s a “deluxe edition” which comes with access to the lesson plans and a level editor for \$50.

Mathbreakers official website

Mathbreakers blog

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About the author

  • Mathematician, koala fan, Aperiodical editor. Usually found paddling in the North Sea, or fiddling with computers.

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