"The worth of your brain levels are easy to call into question, too. They never decrease with incorrect answers and, if one set of puzzles prove too hard for you, you can dodge the harder incarnations of them and instead do several of the same puzzles on an easier setting to rack up the same promotion. In fact, after only about half an hour or so on the easiest setting, you can climb your level onto that of a PhD mind – which sounds very impressive for a few shape-nudges and math sequence algorithms."
Brain Age wasn’t that good of a game – if you could even classify it as a game at all. The software worked against you at times: the voice recognition didn’t recognise the word ‘blue’, and if an answer to a math question included the number ‘9’, you were screwed. MinDStorm (note the clever caps deal in the middle of the name) is another take on the brain-training genre but still doesn’t manage to sidestep the same pitfalls that claimed Brain Age.
Do you actually gain intelligence from playing a collection of cerebrally-themed mini-games? That’s debateable in and of itself; in MinDStorm, the tests are split into five categories: reason, endurance, analysis, intuition and observation. Each of the nine mini-games available falls into one of these areas and successfully completing the tasks at hand levels up your score in that particular area of the mind. For instance, ‘Touch’, the touch-pad-abusing take on spot-the-difference, gives you two pictures on either screen and tasks you with tapping the differences with your stylus. Completing this task will level up your observation skill. Your intuition skill could be upgraded by playing ‘Search’, in which you need to trace around the edges of a shape hidden in a montage of differing coloured objects, while analyses can be levelled by completing ‘15 pzl’, the DS’s adaptation of the age-old sliding block puzzle where you need glide tiles into place to complete the full picture emblazoned upon them. Even if I don’t really feel much smarter for having completed them, these games generally work without much of a hitch.
Take ‘Maze’. This game challenges you to guide a small ball through a maze. Not only does this fail to give your brain much or a work-out (although it does add to your in-game endurance level), but controlling the ball with your stylus can be extraordinarily frustrating. Sometimes you can trace the ball’s path effortlessly, slide it ‘round the winding innards of the maze, dodge the sliding blocks and navigate the helicopter-like spinning blades. But, in just as many attempts, the timer will run out as you stab at the touch-screen trying to get the ball to attach to your stylus. ‘Coins’ also adds to your endurance levels, but asks you to rearrange, well, coins, in a Connect-4-like grid to build a different shape in a limited number of moves and time. However, the hardest aspect of this is watching the coins you move jump sporadically around the screen as if they had a life of their own rather than stay in the position you tried to place them. ‘Divide’ reemploys the coins and scatters them across your touch screen, asking you to draw a limited number of lines to encase them all in individual sections. But the lines are sometimes hard to get the game to accept, forcing constant redrawing. ‘Blocks’ is a cool little puzzle in which you need to fit Tetris-like shapes into a pre-set space, but you turn those by tapping the stylus on them, which doesn’t always give you the rotation you desire. Plus, putting them in place is as awkward as it is in ‘Coins’. ‘Maps’ is very similar to this, but asks you to place bits of map into a silhouetted section of the world, with the same problems as above.
The more logical mini-games -- like the math-based ‘Pattern’, which asks you to write a number in (and recognises the number you write much better than Brain Age did) and knowledge-based ‘Logic’ that asks you to pick a multiple choice answer -- run smoothly, but that’s because it works out your brain and relies on very little stylus interaction.
The worth of your brain levels are easy to call into question, too. They never decrease with incorrect answers, and, if one set of puzzles prove too hard for you, you can dodge the harder incarnations of them and instead do several of the same puzzles on an easier setting to rack up the same promotion. In fact, after only about half an hour or so on the easiest setting, you can climb your level onto that of a PhD mind – which sounds very impressive for a few shape-nudges and math sequence algorithms.
What does work well is MinDStorm’s clever use of differing environments that let you select your type of gaming session depending on your circumstances. You can choose the settings for ‘During a Break’ for a quick snatch of game play or ‘At Home’ for a longer session with puzzles you need to consider more. This is an initiative way to promote mobile gaming and it would be nice to see it employed more in future games. You also have options like ‘In Transit’, and the obligatory ‘Beginner’ and ‘Advanced’.
What’s left is a puzzle game that’s best played in short bursts that cater for the gamer on the go. Whether or not it’s either superior or inferior to the mind training games that have come before it is a multi-laired question: the stylus control is still loose for the most part and the silly little errors that brings throw more obstacles in your path that the difficulty of the task at hand does. But, at the same time, that it’s custom built around the idea of mobile gaming nudges it in the right direction. Those interested in carrying around a DS instead of a puzzle book could do a lot worse than MinDStorm, but everyone else could probably find a better use for their time, if not a better brain-trainer.
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