I love deconstructing and reviewing games.  This is definitely a game that I really loved!
I first downloaded this game to my iPad as part of an evaluation to be performed for the IITSEC Serious Games Showcase & Challenge.  I hadn’t heard of the game prior to then, but based on the title suspected Algebra was its targeted learning objective.  At first glance, I was impressed with the high quality look and feel of the game, something that is too often neglected in serious games.  I always appreciate gender neutrality in learning, and I thought this game did a great job of appealing to both boys and girls.  I was particularly interested by the ageless nature of the game.  Often games are designed for kids or adults, but this met all of my game expectations for either audience.

Within the first couple of levels, after following simple on screen instruction, I was playing successfully and making sure I got all of the possible stars for each level.  The levels were tiny, each representing a single event, and I was surprised at how quickly I reached the second chapter (excellent scaffolding).  At that point I had forgotten the intent of the game and realized that I didn’t quite understand where the algebra was. While it became more salient later in the game, my first impression wasn’t all that positive for this aspect.  The Algebra in the game is so abstracted initially that it doesn’t feel like you’re enduring math.  I played the game from beginning to end twice that first night (A first in my serious game evaluations).

By the end I was able to reference my understanding of Algebra and concluded this game as one of the best I’d seen in its class, but I did have a few lingering hesitations.  First, I was able to tie this into my mental framework of algebra and understand how the information being provided was valuable and relevant.  I wondered if a player without basic Algebra knowledge would finished the game thinking it was neat, but not understanding how it applied to real life?  Many of the reviews published of the game mentioned “Stealth learning”, a term that I find unappealing, but this game actually did do something that not many serious games do, it did actually teach.  Not just reinforce or supplement, but teach.

My second concern was related to the rigidity of the game in its solving of the problems.  There were certainly some things that one might do to tackle the problems that the game did not allow, but I later supposed this might be a feature that would not detriment early algebra learning where the steps are very prescriptive.  Finally, again I wasn’t sure that the transferability of the concepts being presented would be obvious to its targeted audience.  Whether or not the game was leveraged in a classroom, it would be interesting to find out if the learners were able to transfer the knowledge gained to real world problems.

That all being said, this is the most interesting functional decomposition of a subject area I have seen.  This is absolutely what I love about game design and why I think it has the ability to make substantial impacts in education.  The abstractions of Algebraic concepts in this game are not gratuitous, but instead embraced to create a motivating and engaging experience for its players.  I was fascinated by the use of cards, instead of tiles or buttons that could be used for the objects in the games, and would love to ask the developers if this was an artifact of early gameplay testing or if there was a way to integrate a physical set of cards into the learning strategy performed here.  I don’t high five, but I might … for this game.