Game: Mathblaster
Publisher: Davidson & Associates, Inc.
Developer: Knowledge Adventure Company
Release: 1987, 1990, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2006
Genre: Side-Scrolling Platformer
Perspective: Full Shot, Eye Level View
Audience: School & Homeschool
Subject: Math
Grade(s): G1-6 (key stage 2)
Platform: PC
Cost: under $20.00
Date of Review July 22, 2010

Math Blaster! (1986) [PC] Published by Davidson & Associates, Inc. Game Site

An educational “action” game that can teach math to children from grades 1 through 6. Students can practice addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Another level, for fractions/percents/decimals contains 5 sub-levels teaching reduction of common fractions, renaming improper fractions, renaming common fractions to decimals, renaming decimals as percents, and renaming percents as fractions. Math problems can be displayed in either horizontal or vertical display, depending on preference.

Gameplay takes place on a screen with multiple answers to a problem ranged across the top of the screen, and a series of cannons below. You must move your character to the cannon aimed at the correct answer. There are 2 timers going- a seal bouncing a ball represents the time available to answer a given problem; a balloon descending towards a needle represents time left for the overall game. The speed can be adjusted for players' skill levels.

Finally, an editor is included for parents/teachers to create their own lessons featuring particular problems.


Provide a summary of the review and the overall rating, out of 100.

Overall Rating: 30/100

Category Element score max.
Game Overview 6.4 20
Gameplay 2.4 10
Art & Audio 4 10
Teacher Support 8 20
Guides 2 5
Resources 2 5
Community 0 5
Operation 4 5
Educational Content 8 20
Accuracy 5 5
Objectives 4 10
Integration 1 5
Magic Bullet Rating 4 20
Instructional Ethology Rating 4 20
Interaction 1 5
Goal Support 1 5
Flow 1 5
Evolution 1 5

What instructional strategies does it use?

Drill & Practice
Multiple Choice ONLY

score = 6 of a possible 25
= 24%


Originality Shows original thought. Ideas are creative and inventive. The genre is recognizable and the game follows accepted norms. ~OR~ Has new take on known genre, displays particular insights. (IOW Shows understanding of standard gameplay and does not go against conventions. This is important because the goal of the game is educational rather than entertainment only.)
Content Covers game in-depth with details and rich game environments. Well designed game, great usage of game play options and objects. Advanced behaviors and interaction described for all characters, vehicles or other game elements.
Description of game play. Content description (documentation) is well organized using headings or bulleted lists to group related material. I can see how the game will play. (This forms part of the instructional support.)

The documentation explains how to install & run the program as well as explaining the controls, but there is nothing about the game or its story. It looks like the game is seen as merely the vehicle for instruction.

Game Mechanics. The controls are logical and easy to use. Each 'level' fits the overall style of the game.

The player is forced to step through a pre-ordered set of levels that is the same for each of the eight possible ‘fact families’.

Game Progression. The transitions between levels (which need not be traditional levels) go from from simple to challenging and are smooth and appropriate for the game.

The only display that is visible during active play is the playing field currently surrounding Blaster. There does not seem to be a way to “look around”. While there is a shield in the lower left corner showing the amount of shield energy left (equivalent to a life in other games), it is the only display variable visible during play.

At the start of the game players must choose one of eight problem sets (half involving addition & subtraction and half involving multiplication & division) before being shown the beginning of the back story. There are six different kinds of activities:

  • Chase Levels,
  • Combination Lock Rooms,
  • Control Room Challenge,
  • Launcher Control Panel,
  • Space Cycle, and
  • the Satellite Showdown.

All activities involve choosing the appropriate number or equation from among several possibilities. After choosing the problem set, players have no further choice over which activities to complete, or in which order. On chase levels, Blaster enters from one doorway and must run along the path while avoiding robots and other bad guys. There are occasional hurdles to jump, shields to avoid (which will retract if we wait), and icebergs to blast. Each “course” behaves the same way, except for the expression to be solved. Some courses have highly repetitive elements and path segments which have the effect of giving the impression the player is going in circles. It appears that the player must get a certain number of equations correct in order to leave a course (although we aren't told how many that is), so if one answers incorrectly, the course is longer than it is if one answers all questions correctly. It was not possible to find out how many equations needed to be answered without actually going through the course and counting how many right answers it took to get out. The documentation merely states, “Get past the obstacles and answer enough questions, and you’ll open the door to the next area.”

On the positive side, Math Blaster has many save points. When a player quits, the game is saved at the latest completed course. However, most of the rest of the game is quite inflexible and repetitive: all obstacles except the robots are stopped or destroyed with a single blast regardless of size. As a general rule, correct answers are easier to hit than incorrect ones, and in places where players have a choice of answers to a problem, there are no more than four numbers to choose from. For example, in the Control Room Challenge the player is presented with a number and shown four equations, two of which are correct. The player must shoot the correct answers and it turns out that the area around the correct answers that registers a “hit” is larger than the area around the incorrect answers. In the Chase Levels, each time you pass a goal post you are given a new equation and immediately shown two possible answers. The answers begin to move along the course almost immediately, and if the player hesitates they will move out of view and not be visible again until they reach the platform where Blaster must decide which number to run through to indicate his choice.

The game tends to be choppy, often with long (several seconds) delays between sections and levels. On the running course players must total ten correct answers in order to leave the level, but any three incorrect answers will deplete the ‘Stealth Shield’ and cause the player to have to begin the course again. The first time the player’s shield is depleted we are told that Amy, our artificial intelligence guide has managed to slow down the robots so we may have more time to solve the problems. Unfortunately, we are told exactly the same thing no matter what the actual reason for our failure. When I went through the course at the fastest possible speed (there is only one forward speed), but chose three incorrect answers in a row, Amy’s response was the same. Second and subsequent failures bring players back to the start of the course, but without comment or explanation. The player is put back at the beginning of the course and must try again. There does not seem to be a way out except through choosing correct answers or quitting. While testing the game I was able to repeat the same course more than twenty times before giving up.

Math Blaster has some puzzle and problem solving requirements that are similar to those of other side-scrollers. In the Combination Lock rooms, players must collect enough phrases (positive or negative numbers) to match the result of the presented equation. Finding the numbers presents several challenges, including jumping between platforms and avoiding minor obstacles. However, it was found that the numbers change from time to time, and the author found it highly frustrating to finally make it to the place where a needed number was only to find that the number had changed to something else.

score = 8 out of a possible 20
= 40%


Overall Visually Attractive. Makes me want to try the game. Seems to be appropriate for the game.
Set & Settings. Seems to be appropriate for the game. Appealing. Distinctive. Sufficient variety. Original or appropriate.
Characters & Costumes. Seems to be appropriate for the game. Appealing. Distinctive. Sufficient variety. Original or appropriate.

Many of the objects look unfinished. Lines are jagged and graphical artifacts are common. Blasting an iceberg causes it to break up into various polygons, but when finished, the iceberg remains in its original form even though Blaster can now run through it. Icebergs also appear in parts of the course that seem to be interior sections. In others where one gets the impression we are outdoors, the trees that sometimes block our path look disturbingly like the icebergs. They are coloured green and brown rather than white and blue, but fall apart in exactly the same way as the icebergs when blasted. The overall impression is one of clumsiness and a lack of attention to the visual aesthetics. The fact that these flaws are so obvious causes them to be distracting.

Seems to be appropriate for the game. Appealing. Distinctive. Sufficient variety. Original composition or appropriately credited.

score = 8 out of a possible 20


Teacher's guide exists and is easy to find. It is clear how to use this game.
Supplementary resources for teachers (background, how to use, sample 'lessons', where to get help) exist, and are both complete and readable.
A community exists where teachers can go for help, support, to share. It is clearly identified and easy to find.
Any require special permissions/skills to install or run are clearly identified. Installation and execution processes are clearly identified and easy to read and follow.

How well does it deliver on its educational objectives?
score = 8 out of a possible 20


The game contains accurate information.

Accuracy Even though no game can be completely accurate, it is crucial that all of the facts associated with the learning objectives be correct, and that the needed concepts and principles are clear. There should be nothing here that is misleading.

It appears to meet the educational objectives.

Meets Objectives It is not possible to guarantee that any particular objective will be met in an educational object like this, but it is possible to assess whether or not it provides the necessary 'raw materials'. In the case of this game, assuming that the player does not rely on guessing (which is possible) then the drill and practice will probably yield the desired results, namely, to learn basic math facts.

Required learning in the game includes the educational objectives.

Integration of Must Learn Objectives In a serious game it is essential that the desired learning outcomes be part of the required interactions of the game. It should not be possible to get through by brute force or by random chance. It should not be possible to get through the game while ignoring the learning objectives. It IS in fact possible to get through this game without being able to do much more than guess and count.

score = 1 out of a possible 5
= 20%


For an explanation, see: Magic Bullet Assessment

MUST learn = CAN learn

  • Nothing to learn that isn’t part of the ‘goal’
  • Often edutainment fits in here
  • Lack of collateral learning opportunities implies a single-purpose game (or an impoverished one)

score = 4 out of a possible 20


For an explanation, see: Instructional Ethology

Interaction (Causation)

[How does it work?] What player or other actions elicit the response, and how is it modified by changes in input?

Chase levels all consist of running from left to right, answering binary multiple choice questions. There is no progression of interaction from level to level; only the math questions change.

Support / Function / Purpose

[What is it for?] How does the behaviour of the game help it to ‘succeed’ in the goal of helping players get through to the end?

There is nothing in the game that helps the player proceed.

Game Ontogeny (Development, or Flow)

[How does it develop (change) during play?] How does the game's behaviour change as players advance (as from level to level), and what changes in the player are needed for the behaviour to be modified?

No change.

Classification / Evolution

[How did it evolve?] How does the game’s behaviour compare with other games in the same genre and how is it related to other genres?

Although there are 6 editions of this game, and although the graphics have evolved, the gameplay hasn't.

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