Brain Age: : Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day
Brain Age's training is cool, but the sudoku implementation is even cooler...
Nintendo's Brain Training (Brain Age here in the US) has been such a big hit in Japan that it actually kick-started an entire genre of educational and self-improvement software. Two million copies sold and about a half-dozen spin-offs/copy-cats later, American gamers will finally get to find out what all the fuss is about when its released April 17.
Perhaps the quintessential "non-game," Brain Age's activities look like basic homework that we all tried to avoid in elementary school. You'll answer simple math problems, count syllables, and perform other various calculative and memory-based tasks.
There are a couple things that make Brain Age more fun than your 3rd grade homework, though. The first is that all these activities are wrapped around the software's goal of improving the age of your brain. You can only practice each activity once a day, and your results are then graphed against your previous results. You can also test your brain's age, once a day.
The activities for brain-age checking are a little different and generally a little more complex than the daily training activities. One shows you forty four-letter words and gives you two minutes to memorize as many as possible so you can then repeat them. Another shows you colors spelled out (IE "blue," "yellow," etc.) but instead of saying the word out loud, you say the color the word is written in. Your brain will trip up more than you'd think when you see the word "blue" written in the color red, or vice versa.
The other thing that helps the game's fun-factor is just how natural and seamless it feels. When speaking the colors for the brain-age check I never once had an issue with speech recognition. It also always recognized my written numbers, no matter how fast I was writing. I bought a PDA a few years ago and was forced to return it because my handwriting was too poor - it couldn't understand a good portion of my letters. No such problem this time around, though. Once I caught on that it wanted me to cross my sevens there were no more issues.
I do have a couple problems with the game, however, Brain Age's biggest issue is that its simply too light on content. There are nine training activities, and a handful of brain age-checking activities, and that's it (besides sudoku, which I'll get to in a bit). A handful of these activities overlap pretty heavily, too. You can play each one once a day and no more. Multiplayer is extremely weak and essentially nonexistent. The upcoming Big Brain Academy, also from Nintendo, features many more activities, more robust multiplayer, and is more of a "videogame" experience in general.
My other issue with the game is in regards to its actual value as a genuine mind-sharpening device. The whole "brain age" angle isn't a gimmick - its very serious and based on real science. That being said, have I really lowered my brain age from 71 to 41 since I got my copy, or have I just gotten better at the games included, through practice? No other game claims that as you get better at its minigames that you're actually improving your mind.
Nintendo of America's inclusion of Sudoku for the US release (it wasn't present in the original) goes a long way towards redeeming any problems I have with the rest of the package, however. The implementation is excellent, thanks to good touch screen features. You zoom in on a square to place a number, or a note along the edge when necessary, and then zoom back out to view the whole puzzle. All puzzles save your completion time, and you can choose whether the game informs you of incorrect answers or not. The 100 included puzzles go a long way to increase the game's already decent value for $20.
Brain Age is a decently amusing distraction, but without the fun and variation of the minigames found in Big Brain Academy and with many questions about the actual impact the training has on your brain, its tough to recommend the software too highly. For $20 most gamers will probably get their money's worth however - especially thanks to the robust Sudoku collection.
What's Hot: Sudoku implementation is fanastic
What's Not: Questionable fun factor and questionable educational value