Educational games typically aren't contenders for "best games ever" lists, but occasionally one rises above mediocrity and provides a fun gaming experience for kids while also offering some knowledge to take away. However, the majority of "edutainment" games come off as textbook problems slapped onto a boring video game, and are forgotten by time.
Skunk Software's latest eShop offering, Super Hero Math, attempts to stand out from the edutainment crowd. Let's see if its superhero antics are closer to the Batman Arkham games or Superman 64.
Once you start up Super Hero Math you'll be able to choose if you want to play as a boy or a girl, though they have no functional difference. After that, if you've played any other Skunk Software games before you'll think it's frozen, because you don't move with the touch screen in this title. Alas, Skunk has figured out how to use the GamePad buttons — the D-Pad is used to move, and the A button shoots. You can't move with the control stick, which doesn't make any sense.
Super Hero Math plays like a 2D side-scrolling space shooter, though that comparison is being too complimentary. Everything on the screen moves at an absolute crawl. It takes you a surprising amount of time to get your character from the bottom of the screen to the top, and the game's obstacles come in so slowly that you have an excessive amount of time to react after seeing them. These include mines, rockets, and laser beams — you can destroy some of them with your attack for extra points, but you won't know which ones are destructible until you try.
Your score counter increases as you stay alive and destroy obstacles. You can also collect coins to boost your score, but with no purpose or objective to the points it really doesn't matter. Strangely, you can't move left or right to grab coins or dodge enemies, so there's zero strategy other than mashing the shoot button and occasionally moving up or down to grab coins or dodge obstacles.
This game would be awful enough if this is where it ended, but let's talk about the shining feature — the math. Every five seconds or so, your gameplay stops cold and a screen slowly lowers from the top of the screen. You're then read a math question from a narrator that sounds like he belongs in a '90s PC game, and given four choices to answer that correspond to the A, B, X, and Y buttons.
This addition is the sole source of education in this "edutainment" game, but it's so strangely implemented that it's rather embarrassing. Frequently, the four possible answers you're given to a problem can be ballparked without even doing the calculation. For example, one problem we received was 25 + 56, with the possible answers being 81, 193, 5, or 51. Naturally you can choose 81 without even doing a calculation, defeating the purpose of the game.
Of course children, the target audience of this game, might not be so quick to make those deductions, but it doesn't mean they're learning math any better. Why not make use of the touch screen and let players enter numbers and do some calculations? The penalty for failure is so weak that kids probably won't even care if they answer wrong — your character is frozen in an ice block and can't move for a few seconds until the next question comes up. If you get hit once by an obstacle, it's game over.
It's hard to emphasize how irritating it is to have a game freeze what you're doing to drop down a math question every five seconds. This calls to mind the extremely invasive message that stopped your gameplay every time the time changed in Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. Granted, this game is so boring that it's not like your exciting quest is being interrupted, but instantly losing control and waiting five seconds for a screen to display a math problem is not fun.
The other puzzling aspect of this game is that only addition problems are offered. You won't see any subtraction, multiplication or division here, just plain old addition. For a game with as paltry a content offering as what we have here, it's surprising that the other three basic calculation types are absent. Maybe they'll be added in as DLC down the road, though we hope not.
For the $7.99 price tag (at launch), it would be more fun and worth your time to go to the bargain store and buy a book of math problems than to play this.
Otherwise, the music is rather stock-sounding superhero fare, but isn't awful, yet the graphics are as bland as can be. A plain city skyline scrolls slowly by in the background, while the player's character is barely animated aside from their cape and hair. There wasn't any love put into the aesthetics here.
We never thought we'd see the day, but Skunk Software has managed to make an arithmetic game worse than Donkey Kong Jr. Math, and with less content. The core game is far too slow to be enjoyable and the constant interruptions with repetitive addition problems don't make matters any better. The fact that this game sells for the same price as so many SNES masterpieces on the eShop is sad, and it should be avoided even if you have small children who are learning addition. There's nothing to love here from an entertainment or educational standpoint.