The Successfully Learning series from Tivola has, it its own way, become the most prolific franchise on DSiWare. That’s not necessarily surprising considering there's a range of subjects to cover, and we’ve now reached Successfully Learning Mathematics: Year 4. It’s edutainment with Freddy the Vampire, so we know what to expect.
That previous statement is really the biggest problem in this title, as breaking up a retail package into download episodes starves this series of variety and diversity. The premise of completing educational exercises in order to earn play-time in a bonus game is well established and works well, but students progressing through these titles are likely to have a feeling of bored familiarity.
With each entry tailored to an individual year that's perhaps a harsh judgement, though it’s conceivable that young pupils are working through each entry to either get ahead or recap on their education. This edition does step things up quite substantially over the previous entry, it must be said, with some exercises that even had us thinking twice. Areas such as addition and subtraction feature multiple stages and workings, while well-worn categories such as mental arithmetic raise the level of challenge relatively well.
There are areas, however, where the difficulty isn't just high, but the title fails to actually help the student learn from the experience. Categories such as multiplication and division include questions that are difficult for adults to understand and solve, meaning that any hope for young pupils is reliant on a supervisor offering assistance. The exercises also fail to explain where the student is going wrong: get it wrong three times and the correct answer is shown, but with no workings or indications of how to reach the right conclusion. For a title with learning at its core, this is a major shortcoming.
The bonus game is remarkably similar to that of the previous entry, in that it is another match-three puzzler. Presented with a grid of multi-coloured blocks you can move blocks just one space to match three of the same colour, the objective being to hit a set number of points, or combos, within a time limit. Initially there are only two levels, but unlocking golden stars, and therefore crowns, in the exercises lead to what is eventually a substantial challenge. It’s very basic, but offers a decent diversion while keeping the pupil’s mind active.
The presentation values of this title are, not surprisingly, the same as those of its predecessors. The user interface is bland and uninspired, Freddy the Vampire is anonymous and irrelevant, with music that is of the boring, off-the-shelf variety. As mentioned earlier, these downloads were originally in one retail package, but that’s little excuse for the lack of improvement to make the title more appealing and stimulating for young students.
Successfully Learning Mathematics: Year 4 continues the series with little to surprise, serving up another solid dose of education combined with a simplistic puzzle game. While there is a decent volume of content, the old problems of poorly structured exercises — that serve as a test rather than learning experience — and lazy presentation continue to be problematic. It’s competent, but once again fails to stand out in the class.