Anytime Fred Willard tells you that your brain is cold, damn it, you better listen.
The brain training games have taken off, ever since the release of the mega-successful Brain Age and Big Brain Academy games from Nintendo. Now everyone wants to try to make you a smarter person, whether you want to accept it or not. Midway has decided to throw its cerebellum-testing hat into the ring with the release of Hot Brain, a game that takes a different route to testing out the mapping of the human mind. Instead of measuring intelligence, it actually lays out brain activity via temperatures. If a part of your brain runs cold, you're thinking like an Eskimo without a heater. (Well, a dumb Eskimo, anyway.) If it's boiling over, surprise, you're in the movie Scanners. No, just kidding, you're smart.
Three modes exist in all -- practice, test and multiplayer. With each of these modes, players are able to check out a number of activities, coordinating their choices by pressing corresponding buttons on the PSP button pad. This works more basically than the hands-on Brain Age approach, but it still holds together thanks to the small but viable group of activities. One'll have you mapping out a taxi's route in a city, while another requires figuring out the pattern of shapes. Five categories -- Logic, Memory, Math, Language and Concentration -- can be chosen in all, although the puzzles do tend to repeat as the game goes on. Being able to download new puzzles would've been a huge plus here.
The multiplayer mode deserves a mention, as up to four players can take on each other in brain challenges to see who's the smarter person. It requires a little getting used to, but it's a novel idea, pitting smarts against one another to see who's the smarter guy. Unfortunately, multiple copies of the game are required to get this mode going, and it's going to be somewhat difficult to find someone patient (and rich) enough to plunk down $30 on a copy of the game. Maybe when it goes down in price...
Presentation-wise, the game doesn't have a whole lot of spark but it definitely operates as it should. The puzzles look good and the game loads smoothly enough, although sometimes a little patience is required. The real treat here is Fred Willard, who's been cast as the doofus professor pushing you through the tests. Well, his voice, anyway. His character gives the game some much-needed personality, even though it would've been nice to hear him crack a few more jokes. Hey, he makes any game good, so we'll take what we can get. (Imagine if he was an announcer in a fighting game -- "Fatality! Ouch, that's gonna leave a mark!")
In the end, Hot Brain doesn't do enough to change your life, but it's a quirky little addition to the brain-training scene that deserves a look out of sheer boredom. The addition of downloadable stuff, along with a better variety of puzzles, would've made it more than worth the $30 price, but the multiplayer and Fred Willard make it a decent investment all the same. Besides, who are you going to trust -- some brainy doctor you've never heard of or Ron Burgundy's boss? Thought so.
What's Hot: The presence of Fred "The Man" Willard helps tremendously; engaging single-player mode and somewhat fun multiplayer.
What's Not: Some puzzles get old a little quickly; more variety would've been nice; basic design.