- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 19, 2009

A pair of numerical puzzles tests players’ skills and patience in Challenge Me: Math Workout (O-Games, for DS, \$19.99).

Having been mesmerized by Nintendo’s mind-training titles, the recent Brain Age Express: Math in particular, this number-loving fool was looking forward to a game emblazoned with the words “math workout.” Even the package boasts that playing the puzzles regularly may help reduce anxiety, improve logical thinking, increase brain reactions and improve creativity. I couldn’t wait.

Well, the developers apparently checked their gray matter at the door while assembling this subpar experience.

The first trouble spot is the complete lack of an explanation for how to play the games. A rice-paper-thin pamphlet acts as a manual, and on-screen information offers only slightly deeper clues. Neither source completely explains the action.

After picking a cutesy anime-style avatar, the player is left hanging to compete in the challenges — Hidden Logic and Formulate! — in either solo or multiplayer modes.

The first game is aptly named, as it took way too long to uncover the logic in this card sequence game. Players click to guess the numbers on a row of overturned black and white cards with possible values of 0 to 11.

Don’t even try playing the game without carefully referring to the manual. Read the fine print to learn that when the same numbers on the cards appear, black cards will always be lower in value and cards are laid out from lowest to highest values.

So my game plan went from guessing using the Amazing Kreskin’s mind-reading techniques to using a bit of deduction — before guessing wrong again. Once you figure out a strategy — I’ll never tell — it takes very little time to rip though the 100 or so variations encompassing the single-player levels. When challenging opponents, computer-controlled avatars are relentless.

The next puzzle, one that actually feels more like an exercise for the number-crunching portion of the noggin, is Formulate!

Number cards with an addition, subtraction, multiplication or division symbol in front of each fit into four slots on an equation layout. The first slot hides the mathematical symbol while the final is an equation’s answer. The player must rearrange the numbers to complete a valid equation. During turns, a card can be discarded, a new card added from the deck or one grabbed from an opponent to help come up with a formula.

Correct formulas win points and the player with the most points after going through a deck wins the game. Variations include the number of players involved and time limits. Unfortunately, waiting for a certain number card to pop up randomly is excruciating and a lack of flexibility that would allow players to manipulate or grab discarded cards kills any pacing or enjoyment.

On the positive front, the games are available wirelessly for up to four players sharing downloads from a single cartridge. That lets a quartet of players complain about the rules together.

Unlike other, beefier puzzle games, this one offers no incentive to keep playing. Statistics can’t be tracked and there’s no extra content for succeeding. It all leads to a very unfriendly event for younger players.

This mess should have been a DSiWare download, at best.

Challenge Me: Math Workout gives mathematics and casual puzzling a bad name. Any IQ points I gained were canceled out by a corresponding rise in blood pressure.

Joseph Szadkowski’s ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to [email protected] times.com.