Bottom Line: the sort of off-the-wall app that might be played at Hogwarts if Harry, Ron and Hermione had to trouble themselves with something as mundane as math problems.
Mystery Math Town is definitely the first math app to feature talking portraits like something out of a Harry Potter movie. Artgig Apps, makers of Marble Math and other favorites, has outdone themselves with their latest. It's part math drills, part seek and find game and totally engaging. Kids ages five and up should find this both fun and challenging. Parents should rejoice that finally there is a way to get kids to want to do more math.
The aim of this app is to help a tiny ghost find fireflies in jars left in rooms of the town's homes. By solving math equations using numbers collected from libraries, parlors and roof-top garrets within the houses, players can move throughout the somewhat creepy Gothic and Victorian homes to find the glowing flies. There's a fairly involved backstory about the town and its inhabitants and an instruction page on how to play as well as some strategic tips.
The app supports multiple player profiles. Each player enters his or her name and gets to make an avatar by sliding facial parts across the screen. There are French berets, lush mustaches, buck teeth and other fun combinations of features to try out. Parents can adjust each profile to target the skills on which their child should work. Addition and subtraction offer 1-10, 11-20, and 21-50 and multiplication gives an option to stick to the easy 1, 2, 5 and 10 tables or go for the whole 1-10 shebang. It's nice to see so much thought in even the preliminaries, and this exercise gives a hint as to the overall high quality of the app.
Houses must be searched one at a time. There are some great rooms to discover in the attics and dungeon-like basements. Players can move from room to room through doors, windows and by going up and down stairs and ladders. Many fun sound effects are heard by tapping objects in the rooms and the portraits are a hoot. In addition to collecting fireflies, math wizards can revisit the humble abodes and collect gold coins in order to fill their personal gallery with talking portraits who offer fun facts about the town and its residents.
The math problems start off easy with the numbers needed to solve the equation always readily available. As play advances, there are times when problems can be solved in multiple ways and the possibility of not having the right numbers at all exists. If a player gets stuck, he can use a lifeline or swap the numbers in his drawer for some better ones. In addition to regular digits, the settings allow an option to include dice and tallies. This makes the game even more challenging.
One thing I like about this game as opposed to Marble Math is that success is based on the strength of the player's mathematical thinking not his adeptness at tilting an iPad. There is no time pressure to solve the problems which is also a plus in my opinion. The game is interesting enough that the math problems don't seem like a chore. The sounds effects and overall moody setting in this dark hillside town almost made me forget I was doing math. I do wish there was a more difficult mode using multiple signs in a single equation as order of operations is important and older students would have math more in keeping with their capabilities.
Math is a necessary evil for school age kids. The only way to get better at math is to do math, so any app that makes the drudgery of problem after problem less onerous is a winner in my book. With Mystery Math Town Artgig Studios has wisely created a game that happens to use math rather than a math game. It's an important distinction as kids would in most cases prefer to do a quick worksheet full of problems rather than suffer through a plodding game fueled by math. This game even has replay value as ghostbusters get to go back for coins after they get all 50 jars of flies.
Jill Goodman wonders what nasty concoction awaits the poor caged fireflies and where the current residents of math town are hiding as there seems to be nobody at home. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.