Lola's Math Train
3DS Download | BeiZ | 1 Player | Out Now (North America) | $3.99
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21st March 2013; By KnucklesSonic8
Students are put in the conductor's seat of a train headed to a big bash, and all of Lola's animal friends are invited. During each leg on the six-step journey, 11 math problems must be solved before arriving at a station where a single animal can be loaded into one of the available carts. So with some quick math, learn that every session will expose players to a little over 60 math problems. As per the game's target audience, the material isn't anything above Grade 4-level. At their most basic, topics pertain strictly to number identification, addition and subtraction, but thin layers are added through things like sequencing numbers in a row, equations, patterns and shape recognition.
Three difficulty settings are present, each with a different process in how and when counting is introduced. So on Easy, the first set of questions are purely about picking out a specified number in a group of three options, and these only involve tapping the stylus to make selections. Compare this with Hard, which gets into the meat right away with equations where the correct answer must be dragged into the appropriate box. The differences are naturally more subtle to someone older in years, but for a young user who's looking to test their knowledge base, the progression is appropriate, if not mandatory.
For every three math problems, there's a bonus activity that offers something a little different from the norm. These include simple jigsaws with a few separated pieces that make up a whole number, sets of shapes where one or more instances in the pattern are missing and must be filled in, and one where numbered balloons must be dragged over to create an acceptable equation. Regarding the latter, while the first few cases present multiple options of the same number with only a single right answer, this later grows to allow for multiple variations (e.g., the sum of six can be made using a "4" and a "2", or a "5" and a "1"), which is nice. But for the most part, there isn't much growth taking place across the problems specific to a given difficulty.
Truthfully, I do have some nagging concerns about the game's design, the first being that the educational aspect only goes so far -- and by far, I really mean that it's a tad short-sighted. One of the early questions players are asked is to pick out which box has a certain number of pentagons. So that led me to wonder if kids might start asking what these shapes are. Continuing on the line of definitions, it stood out to me that the text in the preamble used the phrase "math tasks," as opposed to "math problems." My reasoning is that they might have done that to avoid putting off children with a negative connotation, but in my view, the word choice wasn't the best for the situation.
One other thing about Lola's Math Train is that there isn't more involvement encouraged. While it's great that nearly everything in the game is vocalized, this could've been used more to help lead into working out answers. Let me give you an example of what I mean. When asked to count on-screen items, rather than just having players input the answers directly based on what they worked out in their head, what would've helped less confident users (especially on the lowest difficulty) is being allowed to physically tap on each shape or what have you, and have the game assist players in arriving at solutions. When I said just now that "nearly everything" has a voice clip attached to it, I was a tad surprised no audio was used in connection with the pattern puzzles. But again, that goes back to the game's choice of giving players the space to work things out on their own.
I made reference to this earlier, but Lola's Math Train doesn't do a very good job of solidifying an appeal that kids will be enticed by. First off, I want to say on the side that the control functionality and the responsiveness of the touch controls aren't up for debate -- these are fine. But on a presentation note, there are virtually no distinguishing features that would indicate this is a downloadable game for the 3DS, as its qualities will be much more associated with DSiWare.
I'm not saying I completely expected a full spruce-up, since this is a port of an existing game on the iOS market. But putting aside that this game is only in 2D, the animations cycle in a robotic fashion with no smoothness to them at all, and the music isn't the greatest of fits (I'd even call it strange, if only because I have trouble even describing it in perfect terms). Along the top edge of the top screen are icons that show how you're progressing and what problem types are up next (e.g., a plus sign for addition). And aside from the text descriptions, it's rather light, but this is actually a good thing since it doesn't clutter the screen and impact the comprehension level.
After all the animals have been rallied up, that'll be it. There's no performance tracking or any lasting evaluation to determine your improvements. All you have are three difficulty settings, with sessions that go on non-stop for roughly ten minutes. Nothing more. What should also be addressed in regards to price evaluation is that this game is cheaper on other platforms -- $1.99 in standard form, with a Lite version of the game being free. It's not a huge hike, but still worth pointing out if you are interested in picking the game up.
Lola's Math Train is functional and there is some learning to be entertained, but at the same time, there's very little to be entertained by. The presentation carries very little charm at all, but that can be ignored since the game's selection and organization of math problems are decent enough. Pretending for a moment to be in the shoes of a train station supervisor, I think I can sum things up this way: "I'm sorry to announce that Lola's Math Train is experiencing some delays due to technical difficulties, so if another car pulls up in the next 20 minutes, you'd be better off using that to get you to your destination instead."
16/30 - Below Average
Gameplay 7/10 - Decent exploration of math-related topics, positive progression, some short-sighted design choices, player involvement not as active
Presentation 5/10 - Audio used to enhance but not always used effectively, robotic animations, good layout, odd music choice, visuals could be better
Enjoyment 3/5 - Not all that enticing or charming, rather limited in appeal, functions adequately, room for improvement in the learning process
Extra Content 1/5 - Multiple difficulties offer slightly different experiences, no additional features, nothing in the way of performance tracking
Equivalent to a score of 53% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System