“Personal Trainer: Math” Can’t Perform

Maybe Nintendo figured that there was a market for its latest casual title, “Personal Trainer: Math,” in North America because our proficiency in the subject falls so far short from the rest of the developed world. Unfortunately, its title ranks just as badly against the rest of the Touch Generations series on DS.
The idea behind “Personal Trainer: Math” is to offer the player a short, daily routine of math calculations to make basic equations second nature.
With such titles as “Brain Age,” “Personal Trainer: Cooking” and “Big Brain Academy,” Nintendo’s ability to produce games for practical purposes seems to be a no-brainer. “Personal Trainer: Math” is certainly unique in that no other company has made a game specifically about math, but most of the title’s mechanics come straight out of “Brain Age,” at the same cost to the consumer.
In fact, it’s a couple of steps down. While “Brain Age” offers a simple but charming and effective interface for its training games, “Personal Trainer: Math” has a slow, uninspired menu system that seems fit for the clearance bin from the moment you turn on the system. For a game that is supposed to encourage the player to pick it up and play every day for 20 minutes, it certainly falls short in terms of accessibility.
The game revolves around a mathematical concept called the Hundred Cell Method, developed by Japanese Professor Hideo Kageyama. Using this system, players fill out a grid of one hundred calculations and are graded on speed and accuracy. If it doesn’t sound very unique, it’s because it’s not — it really is a glorified flash card system that does little to teach you anything new about math so much as it reinforces elementary arithmetic.
Players are ushered through the game’s interface by a cartoon caricature of the professor, which lacks the charm of the vector-drawn Dr. Kawashima of the “Brain Age” series. The daily training mode progresses in difficulty as you improve your speed and accuracy. It seems to offer some variety, but it’s quickly apparent that all the mini-games are virtually the same, save for minor aesthetic changes.
In most cases, Nintendo’s attempt at a less-is-more approach to graphics and sound has been extremely successful. What its casual titles lack in technical flourishes are outweighed by an idiosyncratic charm. There is no such whimsy in “Personal Trainer: Math.” The graphics are just thoroughly lazy, with no animation, blocky menus, a poor sense of tactile response to the touch-sensitive buttons and no clear art direction. The limited amount of music is just as trudging as the gameplay, and there is no distinctive, memorable theme.
As such, the game doesn’t quite reach its goal of making math fun — it’s still math. While it offers a multiplayer option with up to 16 players, finding enough people willing to play the game outside of a fifth grade classroom doesn’t seem likely. It is really nothing more than the math mini-games of “Brain Age” poorly repackaged, which is really disappointing because of Nintendo’s proven success in turning quotidian tasks into enjoyable gameplay experiences.
Had Nintendo taken a cue from Ubisoft’s “My Coach” language series, it may have had more success with a math game. Ubisoft’s titles offer simple daily training exercises that graduate all the way into advanced mechanics of foreign languages, thus genuinely teaching the player as well as providing incentive to keep playing. “Personal Trainer: Math” fails at this completely. There is nothing to keep the player coming back day after day, which is supposedly the developer’s intent.
“Personal Trainer: Math” is uncharacteristically lazy, subtracting the fun and content that exists in the rest of the Touch Generations games. This title is designed to ride the success of “Brain Age,” rather than multiply it. The equation just doesn’t add up.