The first game I ever played
My dad originally received Math Rescue as a free software sample. Once I learned how to run it using DOS, I became obsessed with it. At age six I specifically remember asking my parents for a calculator just so I could beat the game at hardest difficulty.
Math Rescue is an educational platform game set in a town in California that's being overrun by strange creatures called Gruzzles. These Gruzzles are stealing the town's numbers. Phone numbers are vanishing from the book, your mum has barricaded herself inside the bathroom because her paycheck is blank, and even address numbers are being stolen. Armed with the latest in anti-Gruzzle weaponry (read: a bucket of slime and some garbage bin lids) you go out on a journey to defeat the Gruzzle menace and restore all of the lost numbers.
Karen Crowther, the woman largely responsible for the game's developement, is a believer in non-violent educational titles. You can choose your name and your gender. There is no way to save the game, but you don't need to. Just re-enter your name at the prompt, and the game will recall where you were last time. The data is saved in an .MR1 file. You can choose the math operation used (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division), and also how weak or strong the Gruzzles are.
The game is a parallax side scroller that plays a lot like Commander Keen minus the violence and with math problems to solve. You jump across ledges, roofs, trees and factory pipes, dumping slime on the Gruzzles that attack you and collecting missing numbers. Every time you pick up number, you are forced to solve a math problem before you can continue, such as "if I have three apples in one hand, and five in the other, what do I have" (and no, the answer is not "big hands"). If your answer is correct, you can continue. If it is wrong, a new Gruzzle is created.
Even though Gruzzle attacks are frequent, it is pretty hard to actually lose
in Math Rescue. Trash can lids act as shields against Gruzzles, and if you touch a Gruzzle you lose one of your lids. If you have no lids left and you touch a Gruzzle, you need to restart. You start with 20 lids by default, and since you can frequently pick up more (When I was playing I'd frequently end up with over 90 lids by the end of level three), you have to be either extremely young, extremely inept, or both to lose the game.
There are over thirty colourful and fun levels to play through. While many of them are nothing more than going from point A to point B, solving a few math problems along the way, many are large mazes that require a lot of exploration to beat. And at the end of each level, there's a bonus round where you're rapidly hit with numerous math questions, and you have to answer them as quickly as possible to rack up extra lids and points. There's even the option to do the bonus rounds seperate to the level, in the event that the main game's platformish gameplay is getting dull.
OK, exactly how much was this game playtested? Sometimes when you try to slime a Gruzzles, you're character will shrug to signify that there are no Gruzzles nearby...even when there's one staring you in the face
. The game's math engine is completely out of whack. Rather than just using a random number generator to create algorithms, the game is based on a bunch of set math problems with strings for answers that repeat themselves over and over again. It is possible for the player to memorise all of the math problems the game throws at you, which needless to say takes a lot of the fun out of it.
Worse, sometimes I'd type in the correct answer, and be marked as wrong! I'd be asked "what's 5 + 5?", punch in "10", and next thing I know I'm rubbing shoulders with a freshly created Gruzzle. What the heck?!
Some parts of the game are just downright frustrating -- especially considering the age range the game is aimed at. Sometimes, there is a hidden number lying in an inconspicuous place, and the player is left running around the level wondering why he/she hasn't finished yet. There are numerous secret areas hidden throughout the game, and sometimes that's where the missing number is located. Rule #1 of platform games: the player should NOT have to rely on secret areas to win.
The audio side of the game is more than just disappointing. Math Rescue is among the not-so-exclusive cadre of games that are best played the volume off. There's an extremely irritating midi tune that repeats itself every twenty seconds or so, but thankfully this can be turned off. The sound effects for jumping, running, sliming gruzzles, collecting lids and numbers, etc. are completely forgettable.
Lastly, the educational side of the game seems to have been given pretty low priority compared to the jump-and-run aspect. The player can normally get away with solving only a few math problems per level. 90% of the game is comprised of Mario Bros style gameplay. Not that I'm someone who overly enjoys maths, but still...
The Bottom Line
A classic example of the educational genre.