App review by Caryn Lix, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2013
Mathbreakers

Mathbreakers

Puzzle-filled world where math skills make a difference

Learning rating
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Grades
3–6
Subjects & Skills
Math, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Math is the main tool students use to solve fun, interesting puzzles

Cons: Graphics not great, and not much help for struggling players

Bottom Line: Mathbreakers will draw kids in, making it a good way to review a wide variety of mathematical concepts, but it has a ways to go before teachers will embrace it as a primary learning tool.

In its current form, Mathbreakers will probably be most useful to teachers as a fun way to engage kids in reviewing and thinking about mathematical concepts. Future versions have a lot of potential, though. Multiplayer would allow students to work in groups to solve problems, and level design will give kids the chance to design levels for each other, building their math skills by actually creating the puzzles. By making math skills so central to the game mechanics, Mathbreakers also has good potential to draw in kids who enjoy video games but aren't big fans of math. The demo is free to download, but there is a cost for the final full version.

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Mathbreakers is an in-development 3D game featuring a variety of puzzles solved with basic math skills. It's a thin -- but effective -- skin on basic mathematics practice. The first level opens with a simple, well-guided concept: collect numbered balls and throw them at their inverses to zero them out and eliminate obstacles and monsters. For example, if monsters have a "2" on them the player needs to hit them with "-2" to destroy them. Things get gradually more complex as numbers quickly increase, and players have to decide how to use the number balls to get through the levels. Eventually new tools get added including different types of guns that can be loaded with numbers, hammers that break large numbers into their prime factors, etc..

It's clearly, lacking any narrative hook and graphical polish. Future versions plan to add multiplayer and sandbox play, as well as the ability for both kids (and teachers) to design their own levels. 

The best thing about Mathbreakers is that math is the central game mechanic, not something students in between having fun. It has a nice progression, starting with tossing simple numbered balls, but eventually players can switch balls from positive to negative, and quickly increase or decrease numbers through multiplication and division. All these concepts are put together well and make kids think about and use mathematical skills on the fly. The final version is targeted at all the common core standards for grades 1-6, but currently only touches on a slice of earlier concepts. There's very little support, though, and teachers are likely to be plagued by kids asking for help, especially as they first figure out the game.

Overall Rating

Engagement

Puzzles are complex and get hard quickly, but interesting enough to keep kids engaged. It's still in development, so it could use some graphical and mechanical polish.

Pedagogy

Kids need to think on their feet, and use a variety of math skills to solve puzzles. Future versions of the game will also include the ability to work with other players and design levels.

Support

There are some hints and tutorials at the beginning, but the game doesn't offer a lot of support. Some kids will get frustrated by difficult puzzles.


Common Sense reviewer
Caryn Lix Classroom teacher

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Featured review by
Dan L. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Good concept, but needs some work.
Mathbreakers works for students who have a good problem-solving base, but is frustrating for those who need additional work. Even with middle school students, I found that many of my students failed to get the concepts.
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