Cinq-Mars Media’s The Devil’s Calculator is a weird one, and easily one of the most striking games I played this year. Their booth was an unmissable highlight of PAX’s ‘PAX10’ indie showcase: they had a big vertical screen showing a calculator bursting into flame, spitting out bizarre scrawling code and flashing the number 666 over and over. I couldn’t help myself – it was one of the first games I made a point to try. Arriving at the booth, I was presented with the choice of either an iPad, an iPhone, a big computer screen or, surprisingly, just my own phone: The Devil’s Calculator is a non-profit educational title, developed under the umbrella of an educational grant. They handed me a little flyer and download link for their game. Their free, satanic, educational game. I opted for the iPad, but also downloaded it immediately: honestly I sort of wish I’d had this in school instead of Number Crunchers.
Playable entirely on what amounts to a big, fake calculator screen (on whichever platform you choose), the game tasks you with determining the operator of a particular math problem. Not the solution of that math problem, mind you, but the operator itself: imagine if instead of solving for a particular number, you were solving for the function of a mystery ‘Y’ key on the calculator. You’d be plugging stuff in and seeing what comes out until you realize that the ‘Y’ key is doubling an input, cool. Now you know what the key does, hooray! But because this is a videogame with a sense of humour, you’d then have to use your new knowledge (and ‘Y’!) to input an equation, using ‘Y’, that spits out 666: the integer of the beast. You’d then be presented with something like this:
And it gets way the hell more complicated from there.
What starts as a cool little math puzzle (an actual calculator on-hand immediately becomes a necessity), quickly turns into a very weird, remarkably difficult logic puzzle with a quirky, satanic-panic wrapper. And I mean hard: while the opening levels might like a fun, darkly-comedic math toy, the difficulty immediately rockets into the stratosphere with multiple instances of the mystery-key required, locked numbers on the board, and DLC packages including levels designed by notable mathematicians. It’s brutal: this game will teach you math, devil math, whether you like it or not.
In the fiction of The Devil’s Calculator, you’re trapped in math class with a possessed calculator, and only using the secret-function key to generate a 666 will purge the beast. Hopefully. What it will also do is plunge your poor calculator further into hell, resulting in keys that burst into flame and can’t be used anymore, goofy little cutscenes, and bizarre, glitchy numbers stampeding across the top of your readout display. The whole thing is honestly a trip. It reminded me of highschool. When the devs told me it was free-to-play because they’d developed it under a non-profit educational grant, I couldn’t help but burst into laughter. Of course it was.
The Devil’s Calculator is a free, silly, satanic little logic puzzler, with bonus levels available in DLC packages that you can grab for a couple bucks. These packs, like the game proper, are totally worth doing – they’ll kick your ass immediately. I loved it, I’m playing it on my phone right now, and you can grab The Devil’s Calculator on your own possessed device today. Highly recommended.
Learn math hail Satan.
This article is a part of my PAX column, a series of Recency Bias articles on the various titles that really struck me at PAX West 2019! Here’s the root of the series if you’re curious, and look out for more great indie stuff to come.
All image credit and screenshots property of Cinq-Mars Media, duh. ❤