No I’m not reviewing a calculator.
I’m reviewing Calculator, an iOS game that looks like…well…a calculator.
The premise is quite simple. On each level the calculator has certain buttons, most of which are arithmetical operations such as “+12”, “x3”. The calculator starts at a certain number, and you need to use the buttons to validly reach a target number. But you must do so within a limited number of moves.
In practice it’s an elegant design. It begins as a fairly simple arithmetic challenge, but pretty quickly becomes complex as weird new buttons are introduced, such as (for example) 4–>6 (which turns every “4” into a “6”) or “invert” (which inverts the number, so that 2406 would become 6042).
It sounds like the sort of game that requires a strong math basis to play, but fortunately (at least fortunately for non-math types like me) it gives you three big lifelines – (1) the target number of moves is usually not just an “outer limit” but the number of button presses you must make; (2) you will always press each button at least once and (3) there’s a “hint” button.
The “hint” button is the monetization of course. You get a few freebies per day and you can earn them by watching ads. It certainly doesn’t demand “pay to win” though – I got through the whole thing without needing to buy hints (although I did in the end, because I thought the developers deserved it).
All of this may sound fairly elegant if fairly mundant, but it has one last trick up its sleeve – the calculator has a personality. And it’s a surprisingly endearing! The calculator talks to you between levels, and while most of what it says is of the “mindless optimism” variety, it says enough to…get your interest.
So, do I recommend it?
I think it’s a bit of a shame this game hasn’t got more press. It’s a beautifully elegant conceit that’s presented in a very approachable way. The puzzles are certainly a challenge, though the cumulative effect of the lifelines I mentioned above is that you can brute-search your way through a lot of the puzzles if you get stuck; or just use the “hint” button to cut down the available options.
It’s not for everyone of course, but then nothing is. If a game truly is “for everyone” then it’s probably some milquetoast meaningless drivel. Whitebread is “for everyone”, but Lord knows I’ll only eat it under sufferance.
Release date: June, 2017
Purchase date: Approx August 2018
Complete date: Approx August 2018
Time spent: Approx 10-15 hours
Developer: Simple Machine LLC (I assume, the store only identifies the “seller”)
Publisher: Simple Machine LLC
Lead designer: Kurt Bieg (assumed from the Simple Machine website)
Recommended if: You’d like a fairly fast-paced numbers puzzle game, even if you’re not good with numbers.
Not recommended if: You want a video game where guns go “bang bang”.