Mutanoid math challenge. (educational software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Carol Ellison
Legacy's Mutanoid Math Challenge brings the charm and nonsense of a Saturday morning cartoon to academia's most abstract subject and packages it with enough weird and wacky characters to keep the kids calculating until dinnertime.
Although the game is rated for kids 7-adult, it has only three skill levels: grades 2-3, 4-5, and 6-8. Its 60 quirky animations, fastpaced action, and out-of-this-world cast will keep newcomers to math engrossed in the computative environmental challenge the game presents.
After loading the program, kids enter the year 2020, when Earth has exhausted its landfills and begun to send its solid waste into outer space. Smartmouthed aliens who don't want the useless junk threaten revenge by dumping glop on the planet. Prime minister Monitron, a kind of futuristic Monty Hall, persuades the aliens to settle their dispute in a contest of math abilities. The games take place in the Cubix Cantina, which Legacy calls "the restaurant of choice for solar slimeballs."
The program features a single-page quick-start guide that lets kids or teachers get into the game immediately. The 58-page player's guide is imaginatively illustrated, and notes on installation, instruction, game tips, and troubleshooting are presented in a story-telling fashion that sticks with the theme of the game and won't turn off those kids who take the time to read them. Legacy recently added support for sound boards, and the new musical accompaniment greatly enhances the PC speaker sound found in the previous version.
The game is copy-protected by documentation. To get past Vectra, the security guard, players must match a number Vectra gives them to a planet name printed on the corresponding page in the manual. Up to 40 players can play, and multiplayer competitions make it ideal for classroom activities as well as group play at home.
Parents, teachers, or kids themselves can customize levels of difficulty to make the game easier, eliminating multiplication tables, division, or cube equations. Kids select their Mutanoid challengers from a cast of ooky-looking characters with appropriately juvenile names like Barbie Q., I.M. Tall, and Lotta B. Hinds. The game board presents problems in crossword-style grids, where players fill in elements of the equations, and as word problems. Kids enter the answers by selecting numbers on an onscreen calculator pad. From time to time, green mutant "gelatoid" creatures zip across the screen, and a player who can direct them to diamond squares earns extra points. Scores are kept in a Hall of Fame, so kids can check to see how their scores compare with those of the Mutanoid (the computer) or other players.
The game employs somewhat unconventional key assignments: To quit, you hit F8 instead of Esc, for example. But kids don't seem to mind. The game does have mouse support.
Legacy's arcade-game approach to instruction, complete with sound and animation, brings routine drill-and-practice exercises alive. Mutanoid Math Challenge will entertain any kid who plays it individually, but its contest approach to teaching makes it perfect for groups. Kids love competition, and this game's support for multiple players makes it one of those educational games that can turn a computer into an activity center in a classroom or family den.