"Thankfully though, the smart folks at Nintendo have decided to put a patch on the problem, in the form of an intriguing little puzzle game. That game is Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!"
There is one particular question that can be heard echoing throughout the corridors of time. It is something that cannot be correctly answered by most people, which usually include: the casuals, gaming novices, and those who have never touched a game in their miserable life. That question would be, “Can video games help us improve our intelligence?” Well, the way games have always been made could be the reason why most people ask this. You have your mindless hack and slash ventures, frantic shoot-em-ups, and button mashing role playing games (yeah I’m talking about you Square-Enix), but how do these genres help us mentally? Unfortunately, they don’t. Thankfully though, the smart folks at Nintendo have decided to put a patch on the problem, in the form of an intriguing little puzzle game. That game is Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!
The educational focus of the game is based on activities designed to activate your prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls application properties. Mathematical problems, memory trials, puzzle solving, and speech control are the primary focuses throughout, and playing a little each day, according to Nintendo, should help you see a bit of intellectual improvement. If that is the case then you have to wonder if there really is any point to all those years of schooling.
Back to the topic at hand -- what really makes Brain Age impressive is how it manages to keep track of all of your achievements. A slew of elaborate graphs and record saves are what show your progress as you finish each stage, alongside a calendar that lets you know if you finished everything that particular day. Also, several files are available, so that you and a friend can jokingly compare how stupid you both are; a calculation that is made accessible through the “Brain Age” score you receive. Overall, the best score that you can receive is 20, signifying that you have the fresh mind of a twenty year old human being.
Well, a smart one anyway.
What is commendable about Brain Age is that it is the first DS title to take full advantage of the touch screen. Now just how many times were developers going to rehash the gimmicky concept of throwing a map or simple file data on that bottom window? And even though most companies are still caught guilty doing it, we can be glad for the few that gamble with innovative ideas. Alongside the significant use of the screen is yet another interesting prospect in the form of a horizontal viewpoint. Throughout your brain tingling progression, you will be focusing on the top screen for questions and answering them on the other. As you jump from challenge to challenge, you can unlock new subjects, ranging from simple math problems to memorizing the order of numbers from lowest to highest. The presentation of the game is great and will show you just how worn-out your mind really is.
Everything explained thus far has been solely based on the one player mode. To make things a bit more interesting, Nintendo decided to throw a multi-player version onto the title to increase the interaction. Doing math problems by yourself can only be fun for so long right? Anyway, from two to sixteen players can battle it out using the wireless download play feature. The name of the game in this mode is the calculation battle, which gives each player a set of puzzles to try to complete. Extra points are added for speed and accuracy, and the resultant of the trials can be displayed afterward for all to see and mock. For example, my brain age was an abysmal 70 the day I purchased the game.
If things do get out of hand and you need a break from all the mental challenges, the game offers a plethora of sudoku puzzles. For those out of the loop for the last year or two, sudoku is a unique number sequence game, first made popular by Japan. The objective of the game is to fit numbers, ranging from one to nine, in crossword style boxes. Fitting these digits in without repetition will allow you to proceed from one trial to the next, with each new board giving you harder and harder situations. There are one hundred in all and Brain Age will conveniently keep track of the ones you complete.
Unfortunately, the execution of the game can get a bit sloppy at times and it all points to the writing and voice recognition. Yet another hardware addition to Brain Age was the inclusion of the microphone usage. Most of the pronunciation levels, which you will unlock later, focus on the accuracy of speech translated through the several holes on the DS. The problem is that the range of your voice can have a major effect on how the game scores you. From the trouble the game has with discerning if the word “blue” was said correctly to the incorrect way that your writing is sometimes interpreted, Brain Age will certainly give some players quite the frustrating moment. If you do happen to burst a blood vessel, be sure to vent that anger into the microphone. If all goes well then maybe, just maybe, it will improve your score.
In the end, what I find particularly interesting about Brain Age is how well this genre is progressing and how well people are accepting it. From the farming simulation Harvest Moon to the ball rolling madness that is Katamari Damacy, the ideas of developers everywhere seem to be jumping to life. Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day definitely has its flaws, but the game is really what you make of it. You can truly treat it as a brain trainer and try to get the best score possible or maybe just try a round of sudoku from time to time. All in all, despite the simple premise, there is a great deal to do, and the low budget price of the game makes it an easy recommendation. Just be sure to keep the “Minutes a Day” aspect in mind, unless, of course, you happen to have a bottle of Tylenol on you.
Staff review by Branden Barrett (July 09, 2006)
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