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Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree (Wii) artwork

Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree (Wii) review

"It's hard to find a title explicitly set on teaching that players will want to get better at and that everyone in the family can enjoy together."

Don't be fooled by the wiggly cartoons, the primary-school color scheme, and the kind and nurturing Mrs. Smith atmosphere. Don't scoff at the simple mini-games, which all look like they came out of a set of Crayola markers. And above all, don't laugh. Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree is not only a fine adaptation of its counterpart on the DS, but as challenging and as brisk as Brain Age. Surely, that last comparison doesn't seem fair since they were meant for different platforms, but without a "Brain Age: Wii Edition", it says a lot that Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree can match up to the most critically acclaimed "edutainment" game currently on the market.

The "Wii would like to play" commercial for the game, if you haven't seen it, pits two families against each other with parents, kids, and grandparents pointing the Wii-mote every which way and stretching their mental abilities to the limit. True to fact, one of the game's - and the console's - main draw is that everyone can play. And I do mean everyone. Two of my stepmom's coworkers, both of whom speak only Mandarin and spurts of fragmented English, understood the game well enough to earn high marks and shiny gold medals on a spare number of tries.

It also doesn't hurt that each mini-game is engrossing, entertaining, and - aside from Speed Sorting and Fast Focus, two activities that involve lightning-fast deductions of English - unquestionably universal. These qualities are not uncommon, especially for the puzzle genre and reflexive games in general, but they are hardly ever associated with educational games. Even Brain Age has an objectively mature aesthetic that reminds us of homework.

Here, each activity hits the "easy to play, hard to master" mark, no matter whether it belongs to the Visualize, Identify, Compute, Analyze, or Memorize group. Players must shoot through a set of ten problems as quickly and accurately as possible. A score from 0 to 500 grams is then awarded depending on the quality of the performance. Crossing the 100-gram threshold earns a bronze medal, the 200-gram a silver, the 300-gram a gold, and for "our biggest and brightest brains," players can earn the coveted platinum medal. Oh, so shiny! Three difficulty settings (Easy, Medium, and Hard) - and an unlockable fourth (Expert), if gold medals are earned for all three difficulties - ensures immense replay value, not to mention an almost sadistic dedication for some. Regardless of the result, doing better is always within reaching distance. Here is just a sampler of the most addictive and deceivingly difficult mini-games:

- Balloon Burst (Compute): Shoot a handful of number-labeled balloons from lowest to highest. It might sound easy, but throw in integers and fractions as well as different-sized spinning balloons, and easy it is no more.

- Face Case (Memorize): Within a few seconds, recall the facial features on several children and identify one of the faces that appeared. Who knew that remembering who had squinty eyes, glasses, rosy cheeks, and a tooth hanging out of their mouth is so hard?

- Whack Match (Identify): Looking at the pictures at the top of the screen, whack the purple smiling moles that are holding one of them above their heads. Sure, the point is to exercise brain speed, but who doesn't like whacking moles on the head with a hammer?

- Match Blast (Analyze): With a board filled with Tetris blocks, blast away the excess ones so the resulting image matches a given shape shown above. Finally, something other than Tetris blocks disappearing in horizontal lines.

- Odd One Out (Visualize): Pick the moving image that is different from the rest. Trust me, there's nothing like gentle, diagonally moving rain to defeat human intelligence.

However, though the game certainly squeezes enough replay value out of its fifteen mini-games - excluding an exclusive three in the multi-player Brain Quiz mode - it still is a bit stilted in variety. This amount of content may be fine for a budget handheld title, but not for a $50 "full-feature" game. In spite of three multi-player modes - Mind Sprint, Mental Marathon, and Brain Quiz - which are engrossing and enjoyable in their own right, as well as Test mode in which players are challenged to complete every mini-game for an overall letter grade, these features are essentially rearrangements of the original fifteen mini-games. With each activity already ready to be repeated countless times in pursuit of gold and platinum medals, the layers of content wear thin ever more quickly.

With the kinks of Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree being recycled so often, it becomes the kind of game that players will swear never to pick up again due to boredom, only to become addicted some days later. It's hard to find a title explicitly set on teaching that players will want to get better at and that everyone in the family can enjoy together. Getting most people to do mental exercises for fun is usually as futile as wanting kids to like doing problem sets, so it is amazing how this game accomplishes such a feat so easily. Who knew that learning could actually be fun?

draqq_zyxx's avatar
Staff review by Nicholas Tan (July 10, 2007)

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