Number Munchers: Vanished About the Same Time as Dinosaurs; Yes, I Know I’m Getting Old.
“Munchers” was a series of educational games produced by MECC through the 80’s and 90’s. I passed through the digestive tract of elementary education just in time to catch classics like Number Munchers, and MECC’s more famous non-Muncher title, Oregon Trail, whenever my class took a privileged jaunt down the hall to the hi-tech and new-fangled Apple IIe computer lab.
Like anything that shaped a generation, Number Munchers is subject to copycats, whether motivated by nostalgia or by the desire to occupy the original product’s commercial niche. MECC–or the Learning Company, which acquired it–vanished from the face of the Earth in 1999, and who knows whose intellectual property that little green…uh…whatever-he-is…is. So a search for “Number Munchers” on the Internet, the App Store, or Google Play will return several…tributes, I guess we can call them if we want to be kind? If being kind bores you and you’d rather be honest, what we find is a handful of slightly-off trademark knock-offs, all of them as weak compared to the real thing as a Go-Bot was to a Transformer…I’m dating myself again aren’t I?
First, if you grew up in this millennium and don’t know what I’m blabbering about, you can try a pretty honest-to-gosh clone of Number Munchers here. To see how it really looked, here’s a video. If you are using headphones and you want to live, turn the volume down. Also, no one is forcing you to watch all ten minutes of this fiesta of 3rd grade mathematics, but you should at least watch the first cut scene at 1:00.
On to the KO’s, er–homages!
That’s the best knock-off title you could come up with?
There are at least two dozen synonyms for to eat in my thesaurus, and this is what they chose. Not Digit Devourers. Not Nubber Gobblers. Not Integer Ingesters. They could have used chomp, nosh, swallow, chow, scarf, or even consume… And it’s called Number Eaters, people.
Number Eaters is a web-based flash game by HoodaMath. (WHAT is a hooda?! Is that what you call this amorphous cross between an inbred Pokemon and a green t-shirt?) The gameplay is basically identical to NM, but the “Troglodytes” are generalized as non-infringing “Monsters” and the level directives are given as “Products of 3” rather than “Multiples of 3,” which confuddled me for a moment each time I started a level.
To be honest with you though, out of the blatant KO’s I tried, this thing was one of the most playable. There was nothing broken and it makes you do math. Goal accomplished, I guess.
With bold disregard for intellectual rights issues, Mummy Mobile – V, offers…Number Munchers.
I opened it up and it looked great–and by great I mean it appeared to faithfully reproduce twenty-year-old technology. You tap and the Muncher goes. Tap again and the Muncher eats. Brilliant.
But eats what? I glanced frantically at the top of the screen, repeatedly, as those fat-happy Reggie Troggles came at me in legions…There was no level-specific instruction, e.g. “Multiples of 2.”
I thought maybe it was off-screen, so I rotated the phone. Bad idea. That’s when this happened:
Brilliant, Mummy Mobile. Still no directions. AND the Muncher and all Troggles have fallen off the resized grid. So to try to get the game to re-paint the screen, I minimized and maximized the app. This happened:
Mummy Mobile’s app is free. You have to pay them to wipe it off your phone.
This “Number Munchers” gets a lot right. At first glance, I even considered that this might be an officially licensed remake! But then–What’s that?–that, uh, hot pink egg in sunglasses? Is that supposed to be a Troggle? Or is it a portrait of Alec Baldwin done in MS Paint by a third grader? No, a third grader is better than that.
The original Troggles were pure cartoon awesome with their multiple colors, pronounced prognathism, and attention to liverspot details. This un-intimidating foe is a pink oval. We’ve actually taken three steps BACKWARDS from 1988 digital animation technology.
To this app’s credit, it does have this little bit of vintage charm to it: the sound effects are created by your ringer rather than your regular audio output, so it sounds fittingly ancient with its Gameboy-esque synth bleeps and chimes.
Also out of the three, I have to say this is the best. It’s far more authentic and visually pleasing than #1, and far more stable than #2. This app costs 99 cents on iTunes.
With more success than Number Eaters, Number Crunchers narrowly widens their legally defensible gap against injunction with a barely off-trademark name change.
I feel like I should let you know this alternative exists, but I have not tried it. It must not be made for phone. Crunchers has a higher user rating than its Android competitor, #2 above, so there’s that. There’s a free version, so if you have an Android tablet, you have nothing to lose in giving it a shot before committing to the alternative above.
If you do, let me know how it is in the comments below.
The Past Is Gone
It’s easy for an old fogey of almost thirty like myself to look out at the world and see the decline of Western civilization. But these half-baked attempts at blatant plagiarism are not symptoms of degenerate decadence, no. One must remember that even before MECC gave up the ghost, the Muncher franchise had already jumped the shark. Just take a look at this screen shot from Math Munchers Deluxe for Windows, circa 1995.
Screenshots of the original MECC series from mobygames.com.