I, like many people, am terrible at math. I need a calculator to do basic addition and subtraction. Math class was excruciatingly painful for me, not to mention boring. But the open-world game Variant: Limits aims to make learning math, specifically calculus, fun.
In Variant you play as Equa, a young man (Correction 4:29: a representative of Triseum notified me that Equa is actually female) who has no memories. Equa is stuck on a planet that’s at risk of being destroyed by a cataclysmic solar storm. The Manthan people who inhabited the planet have evacuated, but, with the help of an entity named Celere, you set out to save the planet. You progress through the levels by solving puzzles in order to reach your destination and hopefully save the world.
To solve puzzles, you need calculus. Everything on the planet—mechanical bridges, doors, teleportation pads and nodes—is powered by crystals, but unfortunately, most of the power systems are broken. To open doors and bridges, you have to interact with energy limiters, which emit beams of energy. In order to connect the beam of energy with the thing you need to unlock or power, you must solve calculus problems. The first puzzles you’ll do pertain to graphs. In these puzzles, you have to place orbs correctly on the points of interest. These orbs represent limits and their directions.
The types of problems you need to solve become increasingly more complex as you progress through the levels. Some puzzles require that you select an input on the graph that will align your emitter beam to the node.
If you’re as unfamiliar with calculus as I am, don’t worry. You can progress through at least the first two levels of the game by relying on trial and error, and the game doesn’t penalize you for wrong answers. Honestly, it’s pretty forgiving in comparison to a classroom environment.
But by the time I reached the third level, I realized that I wasn’t going to progress without a basic understanding of calculus principles. The game kind of teaches you calculus, but it would definitely be better if you knew some calculus beforehand. You can take notes on what the game tries to teach you, but there’s no in-game mechanic that keeps track of what you’ve learned.
There’s enough worldbuilding and detailed story in the game that it’s easy to forget Variant is about math until you get stuck on a complicated puzzle. As you pass through certain areas, there may be objects you can examine or audio logs you can listen to that help paint the picture of Manthan life before the evacuation.
Triseum, the company who made Variant, also made the game ARTé Mecenas which I previously played. You had needed to be a university student whose professors had purchased access to these games, but the company recently launched a public online store. If you’re looking to brush up on calculus or your art history, try checking them out.