Review: Haunted Math
Do your children need to improve their maths skills? Kai Chandler sums up Haunted Math and lets you know the result.
|Company||The Minds Software|
|We don't like|
With today's emphasis on numeracy and literacy in schools, every parent wants to encourage these skills in their children.
Haunted Math is a spooky graphical adventure game aimed at 8 to 13 year olds that should help motivate youngsters to practice basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Author Ken Tarallo's background as a graphic designer is obvious as the 3D rendered graphics and sound effects are excellent, reminding me of cult classic The 7th Guest. Norwich-born Ken is a well known special effects designer who worked on 12 Monkeys, Magnolia and other movies.
The plot is simple. Your mission is to help rescue the lost children of West Runton. You must take up the challenge to enter Flymouth Manor armed only with your maths skills to defeat the witch and her plans to capture the children's souls. There's a puzzle to solve and even prizes to win. Once in the Manor, you use the mouse to cursor keys to explore, clicking on door handles, cauldrons and any other objects in sight to hear ghostly whispered clues and pick up objects. The ghost whispers are quite spine tingling but sometimes a little indistinct and you may need to hear them several times before working out what they are telling you to do. Although in some ways it adds to the atmosphere, in others it can become quite frustrating. Take the wrong turning and your "soul is captured" and you can start again, with different sums to answer of course!
There are two levels of maths difficulty from which you select easy or hard at the start of the game. A randomly selected sum is displayed at each crunch point in the game - for example just before you can open the main gate or a door within the Manor. Easy is a two digit sum such as 64/8 or 35+12 while Hard extends this to four digits. When answering addition and subtraction sums, you select each digit from a list on screen in order Units, Tens etc. This is the order in which children are taught to do sums in schools.
So far, so good, but this is where things go awry, at least for British students following National Curriculum Key Stage Two maths. The first issue I have with Haunted Math is that with multiplication, the order is reversed ie, you have to enter the answer in the order Tens then Units. This is confusing and not the way children are taught to do multiplication sums in schools. Division isn't quite right either. It's presented in the long division format. In the Easy setting, the results are integer such as 63/7 but the answer is not placed in the correct column eg. Units are not in the Units column. This doesn't encourage neat work and it's confusing to know what answer you have given. Perhaps it's appropriate to the US educational system.
In the Hard setting, Haunted Math requires a two digit decimal answer for example 89/47. Unfortunately, there's no mention of how to present the solution - I assumed the answer should have been 1 remainder 42 in this example. Nor are there any worked examples showing how to calculate the result. After much trial and error, I realised that an answer to two decimal places ie. 1.89 was expected. This is so difficult that it's probably only feasible with a calculator - surely it would be better to set questions that require an integer solution to encourage mental arithmetic? Ken Tarallo told Practical PC that he is working on a user guide to sit on the web which should address this.
Haunted Math also lacks the ability to log in by name or to save and restore a game position: both features might have been useful in a class environment. However, the author tells me that he is always working on further developments so perhaps these are in the pipeline.
To sum up, Haunted Math is a well meaning program to encourage 8 to 13 year olds with basic maths but despite excellent graphics and sound effects, it's not really appropriate for the British market because of inconsistencies in entering answers and the need for calculators in the division sums.