Indie studio Neurodio is celebrating Pi Day with Numbala, a mobile game that teaches children math. The first six levels of the sci-fi adventure are available for free on Android devices only today, and a premium version of the game will debut in May.
Pi Day celebrates what is probably the world’s most famous mathematical constant — though most people might prefer to eat pun-tastic pie rather than think about numbers. But Neurodio’s hoping that its hand-drawn art and side-scrolling gameplay will change kids’ minds.
Numbala is a science-fiction adventure where players fly different ships, collect tokens, and avoid obstacles. As they progress through the levels, they must solve arithmetic problems and use numbers to move their spacecraft from lane to lane. Its target audience is children who are aged eight to 12 years old.
When Neurodio started two years ago, its mission was to create games that are both fun as well as educational. It started out by developing the software Procalculia, a test that diagnoses whether or not someone suffers from dyscalculia, a disorder that makes it difficult to understand numbers and do math.
“[Procalculia] was and still is a success with professionals, but we want to reach a wider audience by creating science-backed games,” said Neurodio marketing manager Robert Kujawa in an email to GamesBeat. “With our background in neuroscience and ties to Nicolaus Copernicus University, we hope to establish a brand of games that not only work towards cognitive development, but also don’t really feel like educational games.”
To make sure Numbala actually helps improve math skills, Neurodio assembled a group of 67 children to try out the game’s mechanics. The session was run by neuroscientists from Nicolaus Copernicus, which is one of Poland’s largest universities.
“[The children] showed an increase in task solving time, after several sessions with the game. The research method was prepared by neuroscience team at the university,” said Kujawa. “They also carried out the tests. Then the development team moved on to implementing the mechanism into a mobile game.”
Neurodio will eventually reach out to schools, but to start, it’s hoping to get the game out to parents. The premium version of Numbala includes more levels for kids to complete along with a dashboard so that parents can track their children’s progress.
“We were hoping to get parents’ attention in the first place,” said Kujawa. “Many of them will face the problem of children asking for some play time on a mobile device. We want to give them a game that helps their children’s development and enhances what they’ve been told by the teachers.”
It’s not the first time a developer has attempted to merge math with games. I still have fond memories of The Learning Company’s Treasure Mountain! and Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium’s Number Munchers. Time will tell whether or not kids will actually get better at arithmetic because of Numbala, but hopefully, they’ll have fun all the same.