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Hot Brain (PSP) artwork

Hot Brain (PSP) review


"That’s the hook to Hot Brain: you have to do everything as if your pants were on fire. When you’re in high school and looking at a series of pictures in a test booklet, you aren’t cramped for time. You start to think “Wow, I could be out at recess or checking out the cutie in row three.” When you’re holding a PSP and a timer is ticking down and your performance will have instant results, the activity you formerly may have found tiresome suddenly becomes interesting."



Fred Willard is a funny guy. His understated humor in “American Wedding” and “Best in Show” makes me laugh every time, and his segments on “The Tonight Show” are always interesting. When I first heard that he was involved with Midway’s recent release, Hot Brain, I was confused. I couldn’t understand why anyone would deem his involvement necessary, or how he could improve a game. Now that I’ve spent some time with what is perhaps the PSP’s best stab at a Brain Age clone, though, I know the unsurprising truth: he’s there for comic relief.

In Hot Brain, you have one straight-forward goal: to play a bunch of mini-games and then see how well you rated. Willard isn’t the focus of the games. Rather, he’s your guide along the way. His job is to make you forget the simple nature of the games you’re playing. You’ll make a selection and an animated character with Willard’s voice will give you a bit of trivia--or a cheesy joke--while you wait through load screens.

One tidbit Willard mentions is the fact that reading aloud has been proven to improve brain activity. That’s cool, but the reference is perhaps counter-productive. Unlike Brain Age for the DS, Hot Brain doesn’t actually have any mini-games that take advantage of the notion. It also doesn’t have Sudoku--a fact that spends falls on both the ‘good news’ and ‘bad news’ sides of the fence--and there’s no handwriting detection at play here. Instead, you’ll mostly use the four face buttons to key in your answers… quickly.

That’s the hook to Hot Brain: you have to do everything as if your pants were on fire. When you’re in high school and looking at a series of pictures in a test booklet, you aren’t cramped for time. You start to think “Wow, I could be out at recess or checking out the cutie in row three.” When you’re holding a PSP and a timer is ticking down and your performance will have instant results, the activity you formerly may have found tiresome suddenly becomes interesting. At least, it does for awhile. That, of course, is the issue Hot Brain had to overcome.

Typically, the developers decided that visual presentation visual presentation was the key. One game involves counting how many people are on a boat. The number of passengers starts at ‘0’ and then you’ll see folks boarding and leaving. You have to count quickly, taking into account both arrivals and exits, then select a number from the four that appear on the next screen. You’re rated according to how quickly you answer, but you never know where the possible options will be displayed. This limits how quickly you can respond and causes the game to eventually end, no matter how competent you are. All of the games have similar limits, ensuring that no one session will last long enough that you’ll tire of it before you’ve completed it.

Of course, the down side to all of this is that you can play a perfect game and the rewards won’t be there. Once you’ve attempted a given test a few times, you’ll max out the possible rating. In Hot Brain, you can’t score more than 120 degrees. I found that in several of the games, I did so right from the start… and by a comfortable margin. After that, all you can hope to do is repeat it on the higher difficulty levels, with extra wrinkles that add to the same formula you already know but which don’t really add a lot to the experience as a whole. To go with the boat example I mentioned above, higher difficulty levels will include people diving off the opposite end of the boat or arriving by helicopter. Such twists only serve to make the same experience slightly more frantic, rather than adding real value. That’s unfortunate, and the “120 degrees” rule seems arbitrary since that sort of temperature would kill you, anyway.

Still, there’s no denying that Hot Brain is a good way to engage your mind. Besides the counting game I mentioned, there are some other interesting mini-games that involve organizing words alphabetically with the stress of a clock, or finding the one that isn’t spelled properly, or deciding which symbol to drop into an equation so that you can make it correct. There are fifteen games in all, and for the most part they work out quite well. You could perhaps simulate most of them with a pencil, paper, textbook and timer, but with the PSP you don’t have to worry about all of that clutter and you aren’t killing trees as you burn through all those booklets. You can test your mind on the go, with just your gaming handheld and a compact UMD.

Hot Brain ultimately is unlikely to addict anyone because its appeal only lasts until you hit 120 degrees (an effort to extend appeal with in-game Achievements, while admirable, is foiled by the fact that no one but you will ever see that you’ve earned them). Still, there are enough options here that you’ll probably find at least a few you really like and can stand to practice for chunks of time on the road. If your pals have PSPs, you can also connect wirelessly and cooperatively play the game to find a combined brain temperature. If you have family or friends, or if you’ve simply allowed your mind to grow muddled and would like to wake it from its near-coma, Hot Brain is a good purchase and a nice change of pace for the PSP. Fred Willard is simply icing on the cake.

Rating: 5/10

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Staff review by Jason Venter (June 21, 2007)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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