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Puzzler Mind Gym 3D (3DS) artwork

Puzzler Mind Gym 3D (3DS) review

"Puzzler Mind Gym 3D is the first brain training game for the Nintendo 3DS. What sets it apart from most other brain training games is that it’s a 90-day training regimen in which all 90 days are open and available to you right from the start. You can tackle as many sets of puzzles a day as you want, in whatever order you feel comfortable with. Early days are easier and later days are more difficult."

When you load Puzzler Mind Gym 3D, you’re greeted with a trippy CG scene that would look right at home in a mid-90s music video. Dr. Ian Robertson (an actual neuroscientist who looks much less derpy in his online profile pictures than he does as an in-game model) greets you at the front door of a skyscraper and invites you inside. Obnoxious electronica music plays as you ascend a staircase made of light through a surreal space full of blue neurons and floating gears, to an elevator that brings you to the file select screen. It’s at this point that Dr. Robertson introduces himself and explains the flow of the game.

Puzzler Mind Gym 3D is the first brain training game for the Nintendo 3DS. What sets it apart from most other brain training games is that it’s a 90-day training regimen in which all 90 days are open and available to you right from the start. You can tackle as many sets of puzzles a day as you want, in whatever order you feel comfortable with. Early days are easier and later days are more difficult.

Each set of puzzles contains four warm-up puzzles and four challenge puzzles, two in each category: Memory, Numerical, Visual, and Word. After completing the four warm up puzzles (and scoring at least a C grade on each of them), the challenge puzzles open up. After knocking out the slightly more difficult challenge puzzles all in a row, you unlock a fact about the human brain or some advice on keeping a healthy mind from Dr. Robertson.

Puzzler Mind Gym 3D does not make a good first impression. The game uses the same blue neuron background in every menu and puzzle. There are two songs in the soundtrack, and they’re both incredibly grating. (Luckily, there’s an option to turn the music down or completely off.) The sound effects are generic. They’re the kind of effects you’ll recognize but not be able to place, because they’ve been used so often in so many pieces of media. Whenever the professor is in view, he’s moving around, looking at you, looking back at the screen to see what you’re doing, thinking, and examining your work. His body is very animated, but his face never moves even once. He keeps the same expression, no matter what he’s doing. He looks like he might actually be a slightly smaller man wearing a mascot costume. He’s like the opposite of Brain Age’s Dr. Kawashima.

When you actually start playing, though, you might be pleasantly surprised. Each category has five types of puzzles for a total of 20 types. There are eight individual puzzles per day for 90 days, which means there are 720 puzzles included in the package. Most of them are actually pretty decent.

Numerical puzzles are math puzzles. One such puzzle, for example, is called Feed The Frog, which has you tapping numbered flies that are divisible by the number shown on the belly of the frog on the bottom screen. The Futoshiki puzzles are a highlight. Futoshiki puzzles, for those unfamiliar with them, are like sudoku puzzles. You have to fit numbers into a grid, with each number appearing only once in a column or row. The twist is the inclusion of greater than or less than symbols between cells that must be obeyed. These particular Futoshiki puzzles take place on a three- to five-row square grid.

Naturally, Memory puzzles test your memory. These are pretty simple early on. Safe Cracker shows a code being entered into a keypad, and you have to input the same code immediately after. You don’t have to retain this code for very long, and if you’re able to look at a phone number and remember it long enough to dial it, you’ll probably ace this game every time. Games like Memory Shop can get a bit tougher. Memory Shop shows you a list of grocery items and gives you ten seconds to memorize it, after which you have to watch as items are put one by one onto a conveyor belt, and tap the items that were on the list. This is simple enough early on when there are only five items on the list, but by the end of the game you’ll be dealing with lists that are twice as long, and those are quite a bit more difficult to keep track of.

Visual puzzles test your ability to perceive what you’re seeing. For example, Left or Right features a clown holding a horn in his left or right hand. You have to tell which hand is holding the horn, which sounds simple enough, but the clown likes to take on some pretty unnatural poses (like standing on his head and facing the background, or walking like an Egyptian), and you’re graded on both speed and accuracy. What’s Next? is probably the most challenging puzzle type in the collection if you don’t cheat. You’re shown a pattern on the top screen made of different multicoloured shapes. You’re shown similar shapes on the bottom screen, and have to tap the shape that comes next in the pattern. The answer isn’t always immediately obvious, but if you’re feeling cheap you can guess at the answer and then go back and do the puzzle a second time to improve your grade.

Finally, Word puzzles are, of course, puzzles using words. Sadly, these are probably the weakest puzzles in the game. Word Confetti can be pretty infuriating. Words fall from the top of the top screen and you have to tap all of the words that relate to a specific category, like fruits or capital cities. It’s annoying because it grades you on speed but the correct words are very often hidden behind other words and you can’t get to them without being penalized for tapping the wrong word. Mind the Gap is the only type of puzzle where it’s possible to hit a wall and have your progress for the day grind to a halt. In these puzzles, you’re given a set of long words with gaps in the middle which can be filled in with smaller words to complete the longer words. You might be given the word “UNC_ _ _ H.” If you stick the word “OUT” in the middle, you get “UNCOUTH,” which is the correct answer. These puzzles are satisfying to solve but can really screw you up if you can’t manage to solve enough of them. The answers aren’t shown to you after you fail, and guessing at them is basically impossible. The only standout in this set is the Honeycomb game. Honeycomb puzzles are like word searches that take place on a mesh of hexagons. The words don’t have to be spelled in a straight line and the letters can be connected by any of their six sides, which is an interesting little twist on the formula.

So, the puzzles themselves are pretty decent, but the game falls flat on presentation and polish. Puzzles are accessed exclusively through the daily training regimen. It would be nice if puzzles were accessible from a menu of like puzzles, so you had the option to just do the ones you like. I’d love to be able to treat this as a collection of Futoshiki and Honeycomb puzzles. As it stands, if I want to do Futoshiki puzzles, I have to search for them among the warm up puzzles, or even complete all of the warm up puzzles in a set to access the challenge puzzles.

There’s also the inherent problem all retail brain training games have: You’re not going to want to keep this game in your 3DS for 90 days. It’s a decent enough diversion, but there’s no way you’re going to want to have this particular game card in your 3DS for that long when you could be playing Super Mario 3D Land or Star Fox 64 3D. Sure, you can just swap it out and play it for a few minutes every day, but will you? These games really are better suited to downloads, which you can keep in your 3DS at all times and make part of your daily routine while spending most of your handheld gaming time on something you’d rather be playing.

Overall, Puzzler Mind Gym 3D is a middling collection of brain training exercises with obnoxious presentation that gets the core experience mostly right but drops the ball on most of the smaller details. You’ll be happier and better serviced sticking with Brain Age or, better yet, one or more of the downloadable Brain Age Express games on DSiWare. They offer a much more polished and convenient brain training regimen.

Rating: 5/10

Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (December 20, 2011)

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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