There's a surprisingly broad niche of educational games targeted primarily at children that find a home in a nostalgic audience. Titles like Letter Quest and its addictive Scrabble like combat and even the marketing of Minecraft show how valuable it can be for kids. Slay Uncool Monsters or "S.U.M" for short, attempts to crack this middle ground between the two but ends up too long-winded for one and too repetitive for the other.
To put it simply S.U.M is a game about killing bad guys with math. It takes the form of small puzzles that require you to add, subtract, multiply or divide a base number to get the answer. 6 divided by 2 equals x, x + x equals 13 etc. You have to solve very basic equations to continue on. The key is that the pool of numbers you have to use is limited and replenishes when you use one. This means that the pool of numbers to choose from varies.
Varying the pool of numbers is a good idea as it stops you from relying on the same couple of numbers everytime. There's an innate familiarity in small equations earned from doing times tables as a kid. This helped jog that memory in a way that was initially quite fun. It grabs the basic maths and combines it with a dungeon-crawling RPG. This is less interesting than it sounds, unfortunately.
Combat has you go up against fairly generic sprites in dungeons set up with certain parameters. Before going in, you can see the type of equations you will deal with plus the enemy difficulty. You might think difficulty applies to the equations but it doesn't. From the very start of the game, equation difficulty stays similar and tends to primarily deal with one or two numbers at a time, both under ten. It keeps a level of difficulty that a child will outgrow rather quickly. The difficulty applies to the enemies themself. When you fail to solve it in time or click on the wrong number, the enemy in front of you hits you. Their health and damage are displayed on screen and choreograph the amount of damage you will take.
This choreography quickly spoils how ludicrously overpowered you get. Generally, a dungeon might have one or two mistakes that bring down your health but I consistently had enough health to tank tens of hits. There is very little challenge to S.U.M. This being said, the premise is still a rather interesting one and the gameplay can be fun. You are given a roster of characters to unlock throughout the dungeons, all with different stats, abilities and more. You can customise around and level up your favorite character. Unfortunately, there seems to be little reason to do this without any real difficulty.
There's a certain complexity to your character choice by having certain characters deal more damage from specific numbers, others favoring gold or exp growth, or one favoring defensive healing tactics rather than all out offense. Your starting character doesn't have any special abilities and their gold/exp growth is 1 to 1. This promotes swapping around characters in an organic way but you would likely be tens of levels in before you unlock all the characters, meaning you essentially have to repeat the last few hours of gameplay with whatever hero you choose to catch up. This often doesn't seem worth doing.
What is rather interesting is how the exp/currency system works. Underneath the numbers, you will occasionally find small bubbles. Blue indicates exp where yellow indicates gold. You have to use the number in your equations to unlock it. This means you can potentially bypass much of the exp you would earn to intentionally nerf your character — a way around the easiness. Gold is used to unlock more paths which unlocks more equations and more of the game.
S.U.M is a surprisingly big game. There are tons of levels to make your way through — both in regards to dungeons and exp — and this is only heightened by the progression of each character. As well as this, you can ascend after reaching level 50 and go even further with it. If you like the first ten minutes of S.U.M and could play that for a further 10 or 20 hours, this game might be right for you. Unfortunately, it changes so little of the basic gameplay loop throughout all this progression that it barely changes. Moves feel the same, areas blend together and monster sprites aren't nearly interesting enough to keep you going. There is so much to play in S.U.M but your willingness to play it all will definitely vary.
The map you explore adds a fun role-playing element to the game as you traverse it and unlock locations at your own discretion but the lacklustre music and fairly generic visuals add little extra to spice up the world. This all being said, S.U.M - Slay Uncool Monsters is not a bad game. Its core gameplay loop is fine, the idea of adding a dungeon-crawling RPG to an educational game is rather interesting and the progression of characters can occasionally be rather fun. In short bursts, this is a game I could imagine myself playing every now and then like I might Dr Kawashima's Brain Training or Sudoku. It's something you can give a younger sibling or cousin to keep them entertained but the progression is a little too slow to keep them occupied for long. As part of an equation, S.U.M can occupy but by itself, it detracts from the experience
TechRaptor reviewed S.U.M. - Slay Uncool Monsters on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by the developer. The game will be coming to PC in March.
- Lots of Content
- Interesting Idea
- Fun but Basic Gameplay
- Does Very Little New Things After the First Few Minutes
- Overly Long
- Progression is Too Slow