The relationship between myself and mathematics is a lot like the one shared between the titular cat and mouse from Tom and Jerry. It’s always been a subject that confounds, confuses, and completely disorients me. No matter how hard I try, how close I come to finally grasping it, I’m suddenly smacked in the head with whatever nonsense Algebra decides to haphazardly throw my way.
It’s been like this since I was a kid, which, of course, resulted in my parents buying me all manner of educational PC games to help me breach the wall of confusion built by mathematics and my own frustration. Did they ever help? My high school and college transcripts suggest otherwise. But, after playing Larian Games’ latest education game Monkey Tales, I think I’ve found the math game that could have fixed some of my problems. Sadly, it’s about fifteen years too late.
Monkey Tales offers unique adventures for grades two through six, with a unique setting, premise, and set of challenges. Typically, the game’s structure rarely deviates from a set norm; the adventure begins with a quick cutscene detailing the basic conflict of the plot, then dumps the player into the first of a series of levels. Completing each level follows a fairly straightforward pattern; collect as many of the magically-rotating bananas in the room as possible (most of which are easily obtained, while the rest are locked away behind a more complex puzzle), then compete with the level’s resident monkey in a mini-game intended to help improve math skills. Once the mini-game has been successfully completed, a door opens and the player can exit to the next level.
Each of the different narratives involves some nefarious plot concocted by a baddie who, for various reasons, desperately wants to rule the world. Multiple settings such as the desert, a museum, and even a haunted house offer some unique mysteries with stories that, while lacking by way of depth, make good enough on their settings that making progress through the story is fun.
Monkey Tales itself is aggressively rudimentary, likely because its target audience is children under the age of 12. The animations are simple, design is basic, sound mixing is rough, and the premise itself is not much more compelling than a run-of-the-mill children’s show on a public broadcast network.
But none of these really serve to take anything away from the intended experience, because it makes good on its premise and does a decent job of masking the more educational parts contained within. Sure, you will have to answer math problems in a relatively quick manner, but does that really matter if you’re playing a Space Invaders-like game while doing so? It’s a sound puzzle game as well, introducing its mechanics and rules in a finely-detailed tutorial and using each level to iterate and build on the last, causing a gradual difficulty increase that never feels unfair or cheap.
I suppose the best way to approach Monkey Tales is to be fully aware that it’s a game built specifically for children. Each of the grade-specific levels feel appropriately tailored for the capabilities of an average child of that age, the game’s varied stories make great use of their respective settings by introducing environments and enemies native to them, the puzzles are challenging, but not frustratingly so, and while the presentation is somewhat lacking and feels generic, it manages to capture the same sense of whimsy found in those classic educational games of old. Now, if only it had been around when ten-year-old me had to deal with the stress of multiplication tables…