Review: The brain bone's connected to Nintendo's wallet...
It's no secret that Nintendo's Brain Training series of games has helped the DS leap over the PSP in the new handheld wars. The Japanese love it and Nintendo has been touting the release of the American edition, titled Brain Age, since the beginning of the year. They've even gone so far as to release the game at a budget price of $20 to entice all of those non-gamers (Brain Age's biggest supporters in Japan) to give the game a shot.
Brain Age Check (Day 1, 4:30 AM): 74
Brain Age is the brainchild of Professor Ryuta Kawashima, a noted neurologist. He believes that short bursts of daily activity can keep your brain sharp and has devised a system to test someone's ?Brain Age?. With Brain Age the game, Nintendo has taken Kawashima's ideas and radically changed the way you think of a DS game. First of all, the system is held sideways, like a book, and players are encouraged to choose whether they're left or right-handed so the display can be changed accordingly. The game is also played entirely with the stylus, which becomes a pen in the hands of Brain Age.
After first starting the game, Brain Age players are given a test to determine their initial Brain Age. The test involved a game that flashed words of colors (Red, Blue, Yellow and Black) on the screen. I was instructed to speak the color of the text of the word into my DS. This is known as the Stroop Test.
I began playing in the middle of the night and the professor admonished me for playing so late. I needed my sleep he said. When I continued playing past 5 AM I was told to go get some breakfast because a meal helps your brain and it's most sharp in the morning. The professor will routinely butt in with new tips on how best to train your brain.
Brain Age Check (Day 2, 4:00 AM): 45
The meat of Brain Age is the Training section, a set of daily mini-games that are supposed to sharpen your senses for the big Brain Age Check. You can play each game as many times as you want, but the game will only record your score once a day. Each mini-game is made up of some combination of math skills, counting, reading or memorization.
Your Brain Age is calculated by using three randomly selected tests from a pool of six: Calculations X 20 (20 math problems), the Stroop Test, Word Memory (BA gives you a list of words, then takes it away and you have to write down as many as you remember), Connect Maze (connect the dots in order with letters and numbers, Speed Counting and Number Cruncher (identifying specific traits from several sets of numbers). The ideal Brain Age is 20 and as you can see, on day two I scored a 45? Or a whole drunken adult higher than my real age.
Brain Age Check (Day 3, 11:00 AM): 37
Each day you come back for some training, Brain Age rewards you with a stamp. Collecting stamps opens up new mini-games and other little surprises. Each new game uses some combination of handwriting and voice recognition. With vocal tests, the game not only tests whether you got the question right, but also (inadvertently) how clear you speak and your volume of speech.
The writing portions also punish those with sloppy handwriting. The handwriting recognition is good (light years better than my PDA), but sometimes it still records a wrong answer when I know I've written the correct one. Playing Brain Age will feel unfair at times, but for the most part the voice and handwriting recognition is surprisingly good.
Brain Age Check (Day 4, 12:30 PM): 33
Brain Age also comes chock full of puzzles from the latest puzzle craze, Sudoku. The ?number crossword? game is very addictive and 120 puzzles should be enough to keep even the craziest Sudoku fan busy for a while.
The puzzles are completely separate from Training Mode, but as the professor says, any brain activity is good brain activity. Once again using the stylus, puzzlers will have to write in their answers on the touch screen while the full puzzle shows on the other screen. It works very well and it amazes me that no one else has tried to cash in with a quickie Sudoku game before this.
Brain Age Check (Day 5, 5:50 PM): 26
When it comes to sights and sounds, Brain Age is a very simple title. The graphics are actually oversimple. Almost all of the training exercises are made up of just numbers and letters? though some of them are in color. Anything else seems like it would be too much.
And the only sound you hear is little musical interludes between menus and beeps during the game to denote clicks or answers. Truthfully, I normally play with the sound off as most of my Brain Age playtime has been at work.
Brain Age Check (Day 6, 11:00 PM): 30
I have lowered my Brain Age considerably since I started. I still haven't hit the magic 20 and I have no idea if I'm actually getting any smarter, however I am learning the tricks needed to combat these particular puzzles.
While I'm not sure if I learned anything or not this past week, I've had fun. Brain Age has managed to tickle my brainbone with a nice set of brainteasers that may frustrate you at times, but will always leave you smiling. It's like a party in my brain and everyone's invited. And like the professor says: ?I love a good party!?