Review by Retro

"A slightly below average attempt at bringing school....home. WHO WANTS THAT?!!"

The name of the game says it all in the case of Brain Games. Instead of producing the usual arcade blockbuster, a knockoff of a popular television show or movie, or just a game that defined odd (such as Plaque Attack or Custer's Revenge), some developers decided to make a game called Brain Games that would attempt to give players' brains a workout while playing the numerous types of brain teasers included in the cartridge.

The first type of game features six jumbled up squares in the middle of the screen, along with three more squares at the top. Upon starting the game, the word ''TOUCH'' will appear in one of the six squares at the bottom. You then have to press the button (one of the buttons 1-6 on the Keyboard Controller) that corresponds to the square that ''TOUCH'' just finished playing peek-a-boo in.

If you press the correct button, you'll be promoted to the next turn. Press the wrong button and the game will show you exactly which buttons to press and in what order, making you feel like a helpless kindergartner that has to have the teacher hold their hand while telling them how to perform a simple task. Once these few seconds of teaching are up, you will be given another shot at pressing the right buttons in the right order.

The three squares at the top of the screen contain orders inside, such as ''WAIT'' or ''GO''; just do what they say and you'll avoid going up the creek without a paddle. There is one final square above the trio of blocks that I mentioned earlier. This loner of a block tells you which turn you're currently on. Finally, there is a numbered digit on the top-left of your television. This digit isn't your television's channel; it represents how many turns you have left. When that number reaches zero, a game over will take place, leaving you to judge on your own whether your IQ is more like that of Albert Einstein or Carrot Top.

The second variation is a carbon copy of the first, except that it features nine squares that are ready for action instead of the minuscule six that made their living quarters in the first game.

The third species in the Brain Games family is all about numbers. A number 1-9 will flash in the one and only square in the middle of the screen. Your job is to press the same number that just flashed you. The same rules apply: get it wrong and you lose a turn, or press your luck in the correct manner and you proceed to the next and more challenging turn.

Variation number four is my favorite of the tests that Brain Games has to offer. In it, there are twelve squares in a 3X4 (3 across and 4 down in each row) set. As soon as you start a game of this breed, you'll hear what is probably the strangest 'music' ever put into a cartridge. At the same time, four symbols will be showing themselves in the four middle squares. After a few seconds of the mute-worthy music and showing of the symbols, the same four icons will be mixed up and pushed over to the four squares on the left section of the screen. What you have to do is put the four devices in the order in which they were previously shown to you, top to bottom.

To do that, you must press button number 1, 4, 7, or *, whichever one corresponds to the symbol you want to select. While your brain and nervous system are fighting a major war against each other for the correct sequence, a timer counts down from ten to the all too familiar goose egg. If the timer reaches zero and you haven't yet made an effort to place all the symbols in order, you will be shown the correct arrangement. In each game of this variation, the game ends after five turns. There are other games of this same symbolic species, except that you'll be shown the order of the characters for fewer seconds, and the timer will count down in a hyper fashion. The symbols are in the form of circles, squares, etc., that have differing patterns of lines or dots inside them.

Fifth on the list is an effortless game with four squares that each hold a look-alike symbol, except for one of them. It is your duty to make the distinction and choose which of the four squares are holding the ugly duckling inside of it. That is, select the one that is not exactly like the other three. Depending on how many seconds are still inhabiting the clock, you will be given that number of points when and if you make the proper selection. After five continuous turns, the game ends.

In the sixth variation, there are four blocks that hold a stationary number while the timer's digits decrease. Add the four numbered squares up in your head like a good sport, or cheat like a spoilsport and use a calculator or the elementary pencil and paper. Once you know the answer, press in the answer on the controller. Typing in a wrong answer doesn't do you any harm. The timer just keeps counting down until you or your opponent key in the accurate solution. There are also variations of this game that contain five blocks to compute instead of the simplistic four blockheads. In some of the other mathematical games of this type, the timer counts down much faster than usual.

In the seventh and final type of variation (game #19), there isn't really a game included. Instead, it's a nice and memorable touch for the less than average title of Brain Games to proudly call its own. There are a few blank blocks on the screen, a square that has a mysterious zero trapped inside like a poor claustrophobic hostage, and a number at the top-left that represents nothing.

You and a friend can both press buttons on your keypad to produce a different audible sound with each button. If you press two or more buttons simultaneously on one controller, or if you and your pal press buttons at the same time, you can hear what different buttons sound like if they're pressed together. I guess this type of game is supposed to be used as a sort of keyboard. No matter what it is, it's a nice, thoughtful touch.

Like the majority of the system's late 70's titles, Brain Games is about as artless as it could be in the graphics department. The backgrounds only consist of a certain color, and the squares, numbers, and commands (such as GO or TOUCH) don't stand out, but they're good enough. The numbers, commands, and symbols are all easy to read, which goes hand in hand with the rest of the visuals. They're all basic with no flare included.

The Atari 2600 is famous for its games' sounds being widely composed of ''beeps and bleeps'', as it's said. Every time I hear or read that statement, Brain Games is the first game that comes to mind. Each time you press a button on your keyboard controller, every time the word ''touch'' comes up on the screen, and so on, you're most likely to hear a primitive beep sound. In other variations, upon doing something right or wrong in the game, these beeps will prolong themselves by playing for many seconds on end. This can be bad, since the wrong selections (especially in the game in which you put the four symbols in order) sound a bit like someone farting inside an empty tin trash can. The only audio other than the beeps is the 'music' that plays while the symbols are being shown in the same kind of game. It's especially memorable since it's so strange sounding and terrible.

With the variety that Brain Games brings to the table, why is it so bad? Well, while it can be fun for awhile, and somewhat competitive while playing against a friend or foe, it just isn't a game that will leave you coming back for more and more after you challenge its many variations. Every time I finish playing it, I'm always dying to play a more adventurous and engaging game such as Crystal Castles, Moon Patrol, Combat, Frostbite, Asteroids, or even Hunt & Score. After I play through all those greats, it's always a long time until I go back to Brain Games.

Also, Brain Games's games aren't exactly great attempts at challenging the human brain. The games in which you must 'touch' the growing sequences in order, and the ones in which you are shown a number and then have to press those same numbers in the proper order, are always a good challenge. I also like some of the other games such as putting symbols in order, and the keyboard, but the addition ones and the ugly duckling challenges aren't challenging at all at my age.

Granted, when I was a kid, I liked Brain Games a fair amount better than I do now at age 21 (even though I wasn't ever crazy about it back then either). It is a good game to get for your Atari 2600 if you have kids in the house that are just learning to add, or that like brainy games in which they must use their mind to figure out correct answers. But most other people, especially older and more experienced gamers, will most likely find themselves not being overly amused by the offerings of Brain Games. The dust mites pay way more attention to the game than I ever will.


Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 04/21/02, Updated 03/29/03


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