Review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated April 2014

Nom Nation

Cheeky nutrition game's learning and tone slightly out of sync

Subjects & skills
  • Health & Wellness

  • Character & SEL
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Pros: Cute pixel art style mixed with some solid -- if basic -- facts about nutrition.

Cons: Learning is targeted at elementary audiences, but the satirical humor fits better with older students.

Bottom Line: Some good lessons for younger audiences, but the difficulty of the game and its crude humor make it a tough sell for elementary classrooms.

Teachers in need of a basic concept refresher for older kids could start with Nom Nation. It'll likely be a crowd-pleaser and a not-so-subtle reminder of important nutritional lessons learned long past. If it's paired with Eric Schlosserman's Fast Food Nation, Super Size Me, or Food, Inc., students and teachers could dig into larger questions about the food industrial complex. This allows some deeper analysis beyond the nutritional content and more about how Nom Nation fits within this critical discourse of food and nutrition.

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Nom Nation is a nutrition game steeped in the pixel platformer style familiar to fans of Mario and Sonic. Students play as "Chef" and are tasked with saving Nom Nation by completing 10 levels and locating 10 missing recipes. To traverse the levels, students run, jump, and solve puzzles, many of which are dependent on Chef's special abilities. And since Chef is what he eats, these abilities are gained by chowing down on different foods found throughout the world. For instance, eating fatty foods like cheesburgers makes Chef fatter, granting the "Super Sized" ability that adds heaviness and stability. If players choose to eat green veggies, they get gas and the "Fart Jet" ability which can be used to float slowly rather than drop quickly. Each of these abilities runs on a timer and disappears after a few seconds, or, as in the case of Super Sized, players can choose to dance and lose the weight faster. Checkpoints spaced through each level keep players from needing to start over when they die, something that will happen fairly often as players fall, run into spikes, or lose battles with Burnt Bits, the game's analog to Mario's nemesis the Goomba. 

It covers nutritional basics such as sugar providing energy, protein building strength, and the fundamentals of a balanced diet. The lessons, however, are relatively shallow and would best serve younger audiences just getting introduced to how different foods have different impacts on the body, the importance of eating a wide variety of foods, and the connection between exercise and weight loss. However, the cheeky and satirical humor has some mature language and themes -- e.g., the McDonald's parody in-game is called the McFatAss Corporation. This makes Nom Nation a tough sell for the elementary classrooms its learning content would fit into best. It's also a relatively challenging platformer, meaning some younger kids may have difficulty with the dexterity and patience -- both physical and mental -- it'll take to progress.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

A cute and appealing retro style, but a slow start. Some mature language like "ass" mixed with juvenile humor makes the game most appropriate for teens who enjoy potty humor.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Consuming foods gives the player special abilities à la Popeye's spinach, showing how foods affect the body and delivering a strong anti-fast food message.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

A sparse tutorial makes way for a series of speed bumps and head scratchers. Students will need to do some creative thinking -- without feedback or hints -- to solve even the early challenges.

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