Educational games grow up

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With all the technology available today there’s no shortage of ways to educate while having fun, but sometimes the you just have to go back to the basics…sorta.

Om nom nom…mmm, math

Recently a co-worker and I were talking about games and the game Number Munchers came into the conversation. Number Munchers is an educational game that I remember playing on the Apple IIGS back in elementary school. You controlled a little green guy (the Muncher) and had to navigate around a grid eating answers to math problems. Back in fourth grade Number Munchers was quite the competitive game. There would be tournaments during lunch and indoor recess that was pretty cut throat. I remember myself being a Number Muncher ninja but I’m sure one of my classmates would have words otherwise. Nonetheless, talking about the game brought back some great memories but what led me back to Number Munchers was wondering if we could remake it ourselves.

I’m a web developer by trade, as are my co-workers, so the first thing that popped into our head was if we could be a web-based version of the game. We did some quick searching and found out that someone had already ported Number Munchers to iOS for $2, which is good because we didn’t really want to good to the trouble of making a web version…that’s hard work! I downloaded Number Munchers and all the excitement of fourth grade came rushing back to me…only I’m not such a badass anymore. In fact, I suck. Who would have thought finding all the multiples of 22 would be so hard! I’ve come the conclusion that, no, I am not smarter than a fifth grader (or even a fourth grader).

Number Munchers

Sure, you find all the correct answers in a hurry, smarty pants!

Number Munchers for iOS has gotten a tiny facelift, swapping the awesome pixel art with “smooth” graphics that bring it a little bit up to date. Although I think it would have looked better if they had kept it old school, or at least made it an option. The text is all Comic Sans and the bad guys are rendered in that 1999 3D way…not that any kid would really care. Playing on the iPad or iPhone with a touchscreen is most certainly the biggest change to the game and a real problem. Controlling your hero with arrow keys and hitting space bar to munch was easy and under your control. Now you have to double-tap on a square to eat a number but when you do so your character chooses the path himself so you’re not in control of how he gets to a square, which can lead to some undesired results. However, one nice thing that was left untouched in Number Munchers are the cutscenes that you’re rewarded with. These quick animations seem to be ripped right from the old computer game, sounds and all.

In the end, this is a rather faithful port of Number Munchers. Of course, there’s not much to the game so it shouldn’t have been much of a chore to do so. It’s still a fun game to play even if it is frustrating because I don’t know all my prime numbers up to 200. If you have a kid that is iPad-aware then Number Munchers is a great way to have fun learning math…heck, even I have fun with it.

I bet that trail leads to Oregon

Chances are you’ve heard and/or played of the another old computer game that helped fuel my childhood, The Oregon Trail. Oregon Trail has managed to hang around for the past 30 years being reinvented several times over and has even spawned a few sequels. It’s billed as an educational game but I don’t really recall what it taught back when I was in grade school. Actually, wait, it taught me that shooting squirrels with a shotgun is hard and that yellow fever is a killer, so maybe I learned more than I think. Nonetheless, the game was simple and had its moments of fun to the point where you can still ask “do you want to ford the river?” and people will get the joke. And thankfully for us today someone took that joke a bit further and created a game inspired by Oregon Trail on Xbox Indie Games…Super Amazing Wagon Adventure.

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure will cost you only a dollar and it is worth every penny. The game doesn’t look like much from viewing the screen shots but once you try the game it will drag you in and never let you go. The game starts off like the old Oregon Trail with you and your three characters in covered wagon in the middle of the Old West but then everything gets super amazing.

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is a simple shmup that takes all the fun parts of Oregon Trail along with all the cliches and puts them together in a truly humorous arcade game. You control your covered wagon and try your best to shoot everything in your path while collecting animal skins and avoiding obstacles. You’ll start off by shooting deer and rabbits but then you’ll have to stave off the likes of bandits (with machines guns), giant spiders, bears, sharks, indians, aliens, space rocks, giant squid, bees, lots of buffalo and even some angry wolves. To help you out along the way you’ll use your pistol, shotgun, flamethrower and bazooka…oh, and you can even call in an air-strike if you’re lucky. So yeah, it gets pretty crazy and a lot of fun but it’s not quite a walk through park.

Unlike any modern shmup where your spaceship’s hitbox is a tiny dot, in Super Amazing Wagon Adventure the entire wagon is the hitbox…and your wagon is huge. The sheer size of your character makes dodging stationary object difficult, let alone trying to weave in and out of bullets. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bullet hell shooter but that doesn’t make it easy. I’ve been playing this game for a couple weeks and I still haven’t finished it. I don’t even know if there is an end. The game plays out in a somewhat random order each time so while you can learn the patterns of each type of bad guy, you can’t bank on the order in which they come. Sometimes you even get to leave your wagon and fight animals hand-to-hand in dual-stick shooter fashion. And yes, you do get the option to ford a river…or jump over it.

Make no mistake, this isn’t Oregon Trail but it’s everything that would have made Oregon Trail all the more awesome. As an adult you can’t go back and play Oregon Trail and have fun. You just can’t. Yet if you want the charm of Oregon Trail without all the fancy learning and slow pacing, then Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is perfect. You’ll laugh out loud when you play and you’ll will appreciate everything that went into making it. You can tell that it was made by a true fan.

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Brian is a staff writer at TMA. He races Hot Wheels at RedlineDerby.com while watching cartoons with his kid. You can follow @morningtoast on Twitter.

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