Monday, April 1

Review: Numbala [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Educational games are always tricky, trying to walk the line between being entertaining and being educational, and finding a way to do both is very much a challenge. In principle Numbala takes a decent crack at the problem, combining number and simple math concepts to what ends up roughly being a shooter. A number of problems when it comes to the controls and it being unclear what it’s ultimately aiming to do unfortunately stand in its way.

The idea is simple enough in principle, you’ll use a slider that you can see at the bottom of the screen to choose a number that represents how high or low your ship will fly. Slide to a number, hit a button, and your ship will move to that level, either to collect coins or to dodge obstacles. Initially, the coins or objects in the game will show numbers (or collections of dots that represent numbers) for you to move to. As the game progresses instead you’ll need to perform simple math problems to arrive at your target number though.

Where things get to be a mess is first with the controls. The touchscreen is probably the best bet but the need to move the slider and then hit a button to move to it is simply inefficient and slow, especially when you’re not just worried about coins but also obstacles or things flying at you. It’s like it wants to have real shooter sensibilities but the controls are simply not practical for that task. There are a wide variety of power-ups you can buy or grab that can help with this but it’s like they’re trying to compensate for how poor the core movement works. To make matters worse the pointer support in docked mode is there but even more cumbersome, and using the controller works but is also awkward, all of these issues slowing you down and acting to frustrate when you’re just trying to move up or down to grab or avoid things. For whatever reason on each level it will also re-initialize the controller which gets annoying.

I can see what the people behind Numbala were trying to do, and to a point I can respect that, but there’s no getting around the fact that the implementation is a mess. Even if the physical controls worked better across your options the slider and press concept is terrible for something that’s acting like an arcade shooter, though I understand that was the tie back to the core desire to teach math. The result is a game that’s not very good as a shooter or as something educational for younger kids who these math skills would target, but who would likely struggle mightily with the gameplay itself.

Score: 4

  • It makes an honest attempt to turn math into something fun
  • A cure art style

  • While trying to satisfy two different needs for fun and education it ultimately serves neither well
  • The conceptual method of control with the number slider is cumbersome
  • Each of the control implementations has its own oddities that are made worse by the slider method of control