Number Munchers (Apple II) review
"Number Munchers (NM) had six cut-scenes; Pac-Man had only three, and they weren't nearly as funny. It's more exciting than some lousy flash cards or even chalkboard problem solving races, and it has high score lists, with names, for each sub-game. And it's more ambitious than its better-known peers, the Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego series. The latter, after several plays through, become veiled, randomized multiple-choice exams a notch above vocabulary baseball and other didacti..."
Number Munchers (NM) had six cut-scenes; Pac-Man had only three, and they weren't nearly as funny. It's more exciting than some lousy flash cards or even chalkboard problem solving races, and it has high score lists, with names, for each sub-game. And it's more ambitious than its better-known peers, the Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego series. The latter, after several plays through, become veiled, randomized multiple-choice exams a notch above vocabulary baseball and other didactic educational games. NM's randomness forces the would-be expert to learn number patterns as well as speedy arithmetic.
Yet it's still simple enough: walk your Number Muncher on a thirty-square board so he eats the right numbers (space bar.) Your Number Muncher, a frog with a massive underbite, wise-guy smile and no body or arms, must also evade Troggles, who are eggs on legs of varying colors, intelligence and aggression. Some move in a straight line, others follow you, and some leave new numbers or eat the right ones. Each has a Latin name you learn if one catches you, when your remaining lives' jaws drop in shock. Three levels, then a cut-scene.
And you can choose what's in the levels. Multiples means pick all multiple of X. Factors and Prime Numbers, you can guess, too. Inequality and Equality give a number, and each square has a basic arithmetic equation that may equal it, or not. You can even have the computer pick your game. Each has its own strategies, though Factors appeals best to slackers who want cut-scenes. You start with factors of three, because for factors of two, you'd just eat every number. Prime-number levels, with just two numbers to eat, are walkovers, and as long as you avoid board edges when TROGGLE! appears down the left edge, it gets silly. Multiples unlock some basic math principles: the multiples of two, five, ten and eleven are easy to figure. Though they loop after 20. Prime Numbers isn't all memorization, either, as you learn certain numbers to avoid and even that trick to figure multiples of three. The numbers get to around a hundred.
For these, impatience getting to the edge of the board, a lingering space-bar from the previous level, or even forgetting tricky multiples of seven will eventually grind you down. If they don't, you should really challenge yourself with Inequality and Equality, where quick calculation is much more important. At later levels, I can picture high-school math teamers getting frustrated. Often, thinking to the next level with one number left is a good idea, and you can even form strategies to eat numbers as quickly as possible. This would be elementary graph theory, or even game theory. You'll have earned those cut scenes.
Which are shuffled randomly for each game and feature your muncher in a self-aggrandizing and inaccurate rendition of history. Most are at the Troggles' expense: he beats a Troggle to the top of a mountain, drives a Ford Model S away from a pursuing Troggle, or prank-calls guess-who, singing "nya-nya-nya-nya-NYA-nya." For achievements on his own, he carves a new face in Mount Rushmore, shoots an apple off another muncher's head, or he discovers light, turning on a light bulb after crashing around in the dark. The game's not all jokes, though. Observe your remaining lives' jaws drop in horror as you eat a wrong number or hit a Troggle.
Smart kids should get good at NM easily enough to start making careless mistakes and get frustrated for different reasons, at which point, strategy games probably allow more growth. But as someone whose best early math/computer memory is learning repeating fractions like 1/7 from my calculator, I'm surprised how NM engrossed me so intensely and briefly with its varied sub-games. At under a minute per level, and with funny cut scenes and enemies, I found it a quick antidote to games much bigger yet much worse. I'm a bit sad I missed out on the nostalgia. Granted, I played other Apple games that taught advanced math and logic better. Robot Odyssey and its sequels present abstract logic puzzles that, sadly, cannot be re-randomized once you solve them. Green Globs dares to make algebra fun: type in a product or dividend of polynomials and graph a function to hit as many globs on a graph as possible. They are involving but lack NM's forgiving flippancy that welcomes even arithmophobes. Educational games on any subject could use magic like that.
Community review by aschultz (July 06, 2009)
Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.
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