Nothing makes math more approachable, and dare I say, fun, than cuteness. Consider how much more bearable high school math class would have been if your calculator were actually an adorable little robo-friend who made jokes as it helped you with your derivatives. Calculator: The Game from Simple Machine puts a charming face on an otherwise ordinary object and imbues it with a little bit of magic that’s almost irresistible. Inside this cute little calculator are dozens of math puzzles, each with their own mechanics and rules for completion.
Each puzzle within the game provides a limited number of moves, a goal number to reach, and a series of operations that can be performed on the buttons to reach that goal number. The puzzles start off with standard operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division), but as the levels progress, the operations move beyond the math rules we all know into complex ways of interacting with the numbers.
For a delightful surprise, the calculator buttons are actually dynamic and they can change from level to level. “Hidden” buttons are revealed during level progression and offer new ways of interacting with the numbers. For example, a button may add a digit on to the end of the numbers on the screen or another may remove a digit from the string; they won’t be available at the same time and must be implemented along with the math that needs to be done. These different mechanics facilitate a new kind of thinking about how to solve the problem, and elevate the gameplay from pure operational math to mind-bending puzzle. Some mechanics were more fun than others for me, and I imagine that the different game mechanics will appeal to different types of players.
There is a lot of free gameplay, as long as you don’t need any hints. Though, you do also have the opportunity to earn a free daily hint by watching a video or purchasing hints through an IAP. There are footer ads which are non-intrusive and pop-up ads happen with more frequency as you progress further in the game. Everything but the lowest IAP will remove ads.
Simple Machine has really nailed it with their charming little protagonist and I would love to see more of it throughout the game; it’s the kind of character I wouldn’t even mind getting a push notification from. More congratulatory statements directly from it and more interaction would be welcomed. Having more options for responses and branching narrative would also be exciting. I can also easily see a spin-off app (maybe in the form of an IAP from within this game) that’s just a regular calculator with this cute character to keep you company; after playing Calculator: The Game, I found that using the native iOS calculator was severely lacking.
Even if math isn’t your thing, Calculator: The Game will make you feel like a mathlete as you progress into more complicated, dynamic tests of your puzzle-solving prowess. At the very least, the game presents compelling scenarios where you must think about the relationship between the numbers in new, unique ways. The simple puzzles are validating, while the complex puzzles are satisfying, and there is a nice balance between them. Math is a functional part of coding and by extension, game design, but we rarely see it showcased as the main gameplay motivator. Calculator: The Game takes an ordinary object that’s just supposed to help us do our taxes and turns its core functionality into an engaging puzzler.