Math as a source of anything but stress is a, ahem, dividing issue. For some folks, the idea of confronting any sort of math problem brings up cold sweats and for others, it’s no sweat at all. After a long, troubled relationship with math as a child, I ended up as captain of the Math Team in high school. The teacher who finally broke through my math wall figured out that if he gave me the answers to the problems and had me work backwards, reverse engineering the process, I was able to see the components of the solution and then reproduce the process on a different problem.

Numplussed from indie developer Codeulike Games uses a tactic similar to that of my intrepid junior high math teacher — that knowing the answer to a math problem and working your way backwards to get through it can actually be fun… just like a puzzle. Each math puzzle in Numplussed is set in a different maze and you must guide a ball through its channels. As you progress, you must pick up different numbers, positive and negative, to reach a final sum of a target number (indicated by a preceding “equal” sign).

In any puzzle game, the unique rules or mechanics will ultimately make it compelling or not. Numplussed starts out as just a few integers to work your way through and at the outset seems clever but not necessarily challenging. But over time, new obstacles and operations are introduced which complicate the process of reaching your target sum in surprisingly engaging ways. The landscape of the maze is manipulated by one-way arrows, single-use numbers, blocked-off pathways and more.

I definitely recommend playing through the levels in order because there is a natural learning progression that trains you on how to think about the space, the operations, and the obstacles as they are introduced. As with many of these consecutively unlocking puzzle games, I would like to see an option for a puzzle skip to stay motivated and keep working. When an individual puzzle is too difficult and there’s no way to pass it, players can lose morale. Allowing a skip of one tough puzzle is a good faith gesture to let them keep playing.

Similarly, for the harder levels, I’m always a fan of a hint system. Perhaps could be a little help button where you can reveal one move, per level. Incidentally, skips and hints could also be earned through gameplay to keep players coming back.

A delightful realization I had as I was playing Numplussed was that I began treating numbers like resources, almost in the spirit of a minimalist resource management game. I have to give up a little of this number, take a little of that, return to this one over here in order to end up with what I needed and solve the puzzle. It was surprising to experience how the little mazes really became math landscapes (mathscapes?) through which I had to traverse, avoiding dead division ends and making my way to multipliers. While the retro, minimalistic graphics help keep the focus on the numbers (especially for the later boards with lots of obstacles), I would love to see more of the subtle color effects that are already incorporated, so those little mathscapes feel a little less stark.

Numplussed has 125 free-to-play levels, with no interstitial ads to interrupt game play. There are two IAPs available which can open 300 additional levels or a “neverending tier” which claims to have 100,000 (!) levels to play until you are all math-ed out. Portrait orientation for one-handed play and discreet individual levels means that commuters and folks waiting in line can enjoy a round or two at their convenience.

The ultimate test of a puzzle game whether it makes you think differently about the objects with which you’re interacting, the world you’re negotiating, and solution you must find. Surprisingly, Numplussed does just that using some walls, a ball, and some numbers. With tons of free content, a unique premise, and satisfying problem-solving, Numplussed will surely bring out the mathlete in anyone.