capsule review

Dimenxian

At a Glance
  • Tabula Digita Dimenxian

    Macworld Rating

Let me say at the outset that I’m no math wizard—I repeated algebra three times in high school (which, come to think of it, may be why I write for a living). But at the same time I was flunking those high school math courses, I was playing games. If something like Dimenxian had been around back then, maybe I would have had to take algebra only once.

“Learn Math Or Die Trying” is the slogan behind this innovative educational game, which combines algebra and pre-algebra with first-person shooter action. Ostensibly the first offering in a series of games, the Dimenxian “mission pack” teaches kids to graph linear equations and understand how coordinate systems work. It’s also a lot of fun to play.

You find yourself in the shoes of Kepler Harris, the commander of a special-ops team. You’ve been sent in to help Darienne Clay, daughter of the great Dr. Robert Clay, contain a “bio-digital virus” that is causing life forms to mutate on a remote island. The virus has transformed life on the island into “bio-mutes,” including a deadly species called Sentinels, which are bent on your destruction. The data you collect and analyze is used by Darienne to figure out where her father’s research went wrong, by comparing it to his early research linking algebraic structures to natural organisms.

Plot Points After taking measurements of the bio-mutes, you must plot them using this terminal in Dimenxian.

There are four separate missions included in the mission pack, each one demonstrating different algebraic principles at work. In your first mission, for example, you have to visit four weather stations to record temperature and time data, then input that information by plotting it back at a mainframe (all the while defending yourself from Sentinels). Later missions require you to plot basic linear equations, analyze data and perform other functions kids learn in an Algebra I class.

Running around and shooting things is essentially your reward, though it’s not a key part of solving each mission. Darienne reports back to you as you successfully complete each mission, providing a sense of urgency along the way; after all, you have to contain the bio-virus before it seeps into the ocean and destroys all life.

To keep things interesting you won’t just be running around to different grid coordinates—you also need to use a jet pack and a tank-like vehicle to complete some missions, so there’s some varied gameplay. None of the action is excessively violent, by the way; for example, you’re netting bio-mutes and measuring them in one activity.

Graphics are quite good, though they’re a bit primitive compared with current state-of-the-art in first person shooters, and gameplay is smooth provided your Mac meets the system requirements: a 1.5GHz G5 processor is the recommended minimum (though Dimenxian also runs natively on Intel-based Macs). Those hardware requirements seem to be a bit steeper than what most schools have at this moment. Music and voice acting is top notch, though a bit sparse.

You can log in to the Dimenxian servers to record your scores online. Developer Tabula Digita maintains a database of high scores, so you can compare your effort to others’ and see how you rank. The game rates you on both your ability to calculate the algebra as well as your gameplay style, so it’s double the challenge.

My only complaint about Dimenxian is that it’s short—with only four lessons to master, you can easily complete the game in a sitting or two. But it’s fun to revisit the game and play it over again too.

I can’t wait to see what else Tabula Digita comes up with. Maybe I can finally tackle calculus one of these days while I’m fighting back an onslaught of Sentinels.

The bottom line

If you have a youngster at home that’s struggling with Algebra I, or even if you’re looking for an educational title that’s likely to appeal to the Xbox crowd, then Dimenxian is sure to please. It offers the best of both worlds by combining solid algebra lessons with first person shooter-style action.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Solid lessons in basic algebra, teaching linear equations, plotting and other lessons
    • Ability to compare your scores to others online
    • Fun action

    Cons

    • Steep system requirements
    • Short
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