Zero Sum: Making Math Fun. And Weird.

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If you love numbers and bad B-movies, there’s no finer candidate for your game library than Zero Sum. Actually, I take that back. You don’t even have to like numbers. I am a prime example of this. Can’t remember own age? Check. Uses fingers and toes to count stuff? Check. Thinks the number 4 is the best number because it just sounds pretty? Checkity check. Pardon me, I do believe my arts degree is showing.

And yet I cracked open Zero Sum and didn’t stop playing until the credits rolled. To be fair, it shouldn’t take long to finish. Even if you’re a math noob like me who had to redo several puzzles over and over, it’ll probably last you a couple of hours tops. What makes the game priceless is the story that executes a parody on B-movies with beautiful precision.

Summarised, you’re curing cancer. With math. It’s so bad it’s good. The melodramatics and over-the-top acting are on point. The gaping holes in the plotline are things to be relished. Face palming moments are aplenty and you get an overwhelming sense that the developers from Squeezebox Software had a lot of fun with this.

Parodies aside, the mathing mechanic actually made me feel quite smart. Solve the puzzles by placing plus and minus signs in between numbers in a math equation in order to get the equation to equal zero. The puzzles ramp up slowly, throwing in obstacles to add to the complexity. The story actually does a great job of tying in plotlines to why certain things are happening in your math equation. If the numbers are disappearing, it’s because the ink is melting due to extreme heat. If it’s a timed puzzle, your grandmother is on her last legs and you need to get a cure for her before it’s too late. I couldn’t help but have flashbacks of every movie that precedes a Eureka moment with a guy furiously scribbling unintelligible equations on a blackboard. In Zero Sum, you are that guy but fortunately the equations aren’t as mysterious. Regardless, you’ll still feel pretty chuffed with yourself.

Now you may have cottoned on to the fact that you could just chuck in random math signs until you balance the equation. After all, for a lot of the puzzles, you’re only utilising the plus and minus signs. But the game counters this by reducing the number of stars that you can score the more moves you make. The stars don’t actually add up to anything significant but it’s some incentive not to be a total trial-and-error junkie. I sincerely wish that the stars gave you access to some Easter egg or maybe an alternate ending. (Hint, hint, developers. We want more bad B movie plotlines!)

It’s a quick diversion but it’s bound to put a smile on your face and a snort in your laugh.



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