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Brain Age: Concentration Training (3DS) artwork

Brain Age: Concentration Training (3DS) review

"You will do as the floating polygonal head commands."

The first two Brain Age games epitomized the casual appeal of the original Nintendo DS. They were the work of Japanese neuroscientist Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, and their purpose was to keep your brain sharp by way of mental exercises. Now Brain Age: Concentration Training has brought the familiar self-improvement series to the 3DS hardware, while also taking the experience in a new direction.

The new title is much bigger than each of its two DS predecessors were. It features a whopping 30 activities spread across a variety of categories, which helps it to earn its $30 price tag (previous games were budget priced at $20, but also offered much less content). Concentration Training is also the first full Brain Age title to be released simultaneously at retail and as a download. This solves one very big problem the first two Brain Age games--along with other similar fare--have always faced: the lack of convenient availability. Brain Age titles aren’t something you sit down and play through in a few sittings. You’re supposed to play for a few minutes every day, indefinitely, which means the package gains a lot by taking up permanent residence within your 3DS. It doesn’t have to occupy your 3DS game card slot when you’d rather be playing Fire Emblem: Awakening, for instance. You’ll have a much easier time sticking with your training when the software is always close at hand.

Brain Age: Concentration Training focuses on training your working memory. Working memory is what allows you to remember information for short term use, such as remembering what has been said in a conversation, or retaining solutions to simple math problems as part of solving larger, more complex equations.

Brain Age attempts to help you improve your working memory through “Devilish Training,” which consists of concentrated five-minute exercises. Devilish Training activities are easily solved at first and gradually grow more or less difficult as you keep playing. The flagship Devilish Training exercise is Devilish Math. In that mode, you are shown a series of simple equations. Your goal is to remember the answers to the last few equations you’ve been shown, and to write them down in the proper order. For example, on the easiest difficulty level (known as “1 Back”), you must write the answer to the 1st equation you saw while the 2nd equation is being shown on screen. Once you’ve done that, the 2nd equation disappears, and the 3rd equation is shown, at which point you have to write the answer to the 2nd equation. After a couple of dozen equations, the round ends and you’re shown your results. If you managed to get 85% or more correct, the next round is more difficult. Either the speed increases, or you’re expected to retain more answers at a time. On the other hand, a score of 65% or less in a round will decrease the difficulty level. You get to keep playing until you’ve worked on the exercise for five minutes, and then you stop for the day. You won’t be able to play that exercise again until the following day, but if you wish, you may try a different Devilish Training exercise for another five minutes.

Your goal in Devilish Training is clearly not to “finish” an exercise. 3 Back or 4 Back in Devilish Calculations is already quite challenging, which means many people may reach their limit around that point, but the software reportedly goes all the way up to 99 Back. A human can’t reasonably be expected to reach such levels unless he or she is some sort of savant. Thus, it’s obvious that Devilish Training is designed to push you to your own limits, and keep you playing at a level that is tailored to your individual performance.

There’s a host of other Devilish Training exercises that work in different ways. Devilish Pairs is a simple card game in which you must remember what number is on each card as you try to match pairs. Flipping any single card a second time without matching it to its mate will result in a penalty. Devilish Reading asks you to read a set of sentences out loud while memorizing one specific underlined word in each sentence so you can write them all down when you’re finished. Devilish Shapes works similarly to Devilish Math, except now you’re shown difficult-to-remember shapes instead of equations.

There’s no lack of variety within exercises, especially when you take the other types of training into account. On top of Devilish Training, there’s also Supplemental Training (exercises that cater to specific parts of your working memory) and Brain Training (which works to help maintain parts of your brain that normally deteriorate with age). These modes mix old and new activities. Favourites like Calculations x 20 (a race to complete 20 calculations as quickly as possible) and Piano Player (a music game in which you play a piano on the touch screen while following sheet music on the top screen) also make a return. An assortment of new exercises makes a welcome addition to the lineup, especially in the case of Block Head. The new mode pits you against a CPU opponent, and your goal is to occupy more space on a game board than your adversary. Players take turns jumping from tile to tile, occupying each tile they land on by changing its colour. Players can’t land on tiles that already belong to their opponent. It’s a fun little game, so it’s a shame that you can only play one new set of levels per day. Block Head would make for a great standalone 3DS eShop title.

Though most modes can only be played once per day, Relaxation Mode exercises are the exception. The first two relaxation options are touch screen puzzle games based on Wario’s Woods (Blob Blast) and Dr. Mario (Virus Buster). There’s also a music player you’ll probably mess with for about five minutes before never touching it again.

Brain Age: Concentration Training is the best Brain Age yet, except for a few rough edges. The old and new exercises seem to use two different handwriting recognition systems. The old system is fine, but the new one seems to get confused more often than it should. It often thinks 5’s are 4’s somehow, which just about always derails your train of thought in Devilish Math. It also can’t seem to recognize the letter F, either in capital or lowercase forms, unless your write it as two separate characters (an upside-down L and a -). Relaxation Mode might also be a misnomer thanks to whoever is responsible for Blob Blast. That individual apparently has no idea how falling block puzzle games work, since it seems to be missing the typical falling block game algorithm that ensures that you eventually get the block you need in order to continue. The game ends when the screen fills, and Dr. Kawashima’s floating head says “Bad luck!” as if he’s perfectly aware of the fact that that a round’s duration really is a matter of luck.

Still, Brain Age: Concentration Training is a sizeable and varied collection of mostly polished activities that are great to play in short bursts. Whether repeating these activities will actually improve your working memory (rather than just training you to be better at those specific activities) is perhaps a worthy topic for discussion, but if any brain training app can improve your brainpower in any way, it’s this one thanks to the constantly adapting Devilish Training exercises. As a download, Brain Age: Concentration Training is the most practical of the Brain Age titles to work into your daily routine. If you’re looking for a brain training app for 3DS, this is definitely the one to get.


Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (February 14, 2013)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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