Review by NDS_Master

"Get Smart -- Party More"

Remember those Fs that covered your last report card? Recall how you somehow managed to scribble your way through 480 multiple-choice problems and still only score two correct? You don't remember? It never happened to you? Maybe something dealing with the other end of the spectrum will relate: Ever wondered why you only received a 101 in Differential Equations and not a 102? Are you curious as to why the highest you have scored on a standardized test is in the ninety-ninth percentile and not the one hundredth?

If you can relate to either of these situations, then there is something you need to know. Of course, if you happen to reside in the happy middle between the two extremes, these words of importance should still resound in your ears. And even if you are way too aged for grades and report cards, the same cold, hard facts exist for you to swallow: You need to play more video games.

Undoubtedly, many forms of video games have proved vitally beneficial to people all across the globe. After all, puzzle games require thinking, action games require coordination, and strategy games require, well, strategy. But never has a massively popular video game been strictly devoted to improving your mental muscles and uniting both hemispheres of your prefrontal cortex. That, however, has all changed with Brain Age.

Developed by Japanese neuroscientist Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, Brain Age is the result of years of study that he has done on brain activity. Throughout the course of his work, Kawashima learned that by performing even simple brain activities every day, individuals can improve their mental abilities over a period of time.

By taking the most effective of these training exercises, Kawashima was able to team able with the pros at Nintendo to create Brain Age. Since stimulation of the mind is the focus, graphics and sound were not a large part of this game. Yes, there are graphics, and yes, there are music and sound effects, but they are all so basic that they neither contribute to nor detract from the experience. They weren't meant to. In this twenty dollar bargain title, the emphasis on your brain, and your brain alone.

Once you pick up Brain Age, it is easy to notice that the game does not use the DS in the same way most games do. You need to turn the DS sideways if you are going to use the touch screen. However, when the DS is on its side, it is awkward to use the touch screen with both your left and right hands because of the way the top screen is angled. Fortunately for all the righties out there, the game features a right-handed mode to accompany the prestigious mode for left-handers. To change modes, all you need to do is head into the options menu, alter your hand preferences, and then turn the DS completely around.

As for the brain training itself, since it is the most important aspect of this game most of the time you will reside in the training area. After selecting one of four files and inserting some personal information, you will be set to go. First you will want to determine your Brain Age, which is calculated through three of several randomly chosen activities.

In these activities, Kawashima will have you using the touch screen to quickly answer math problems, connect several numbers and letters scattered across the screen, memorize a list of thirty words in two minutes and then write as many as you can down, or even figure out a specific amount of moving or colored numbers in a counting game. Beyond that, in exercises dealing with the microphone, you will have to speak the color of words that pop onto the screen or count quickly. Every one of these challenges requires fast mental thinking, and based on your success Kawashima will determine your brain age.

The lowest and best brain age possible is twenty, and it goes up from there. While obtaining the perfect brain age is fairly challenging, there is a decent amount of leeway when it comes to achieving it if you happen to play the simplest games. Yes, some games are inherently easier than others to score well on, though overall the calculation process if does accurate job of figuring out how old your brain is.

Once you are done with your brain age check, you can spend the remainder of your time playing through the many training activities in Brain Age. And there are several -- spanning multiple genres of mind related games. As for math challenges, there are two sets of simple math problems that you can work through: one has twenty problems and the other has one hundred. These require speed, and their intensity is incredible. To make the math even better, a download multiplayer option allows you to test your math skills against friends in a race through thirty problems. It is the only multiplayer portion of the game, but it is fun. Along with that, Triangle Math, which requires you to add and subtract numbers in a pyramid as fast as possible, provides mental stimulation.

Touch screen counting games are another important area of the training. These include counting syllables in sentences and counting people that quickly leave or enter a house. Also, there is another game where you have to memorize numbers within a few seconds and then tap the boxes they were in from lowest to highest, and yet another one that has you tell the difference in time between two analog clocks.

Only two training games require you to speak. The first activity requires you to read a classic literature passage out loud as quickly as possible. Although it does not utilize the microphone so it is possible to cheat, it does offer an excellent opportunity to keep your brain healthy. Since cheaters only hinder their own mental improvement and gain nothing, there is no reason to skim over the sections for a better score. Keep the focus on your brain.

Accompanying Reading Aloud is Voice Calculation, which is a set of fifty basic math problems that you need to answer by speaking to the microphone. Although there is a minute delay before the game recognizes your words, the activity surprisingly still requires you to think rapidly as it offers a unique and entertaining challenge.

Finally, Sudoku puzzles add that extra bit of flavor to the overall training portion of Brain Age. While they are separate from your training, the more than 100 puzzles included in Brain Age will give you challenges and can keep you occupied for several hours. They start off simple so that even beginners can master them, and from there they ease into the terrifying difficulty level that puzzles pros have come to expect. If you are Sudoku fan then it alone should be an incentive to purchase Brain Age.

All of these challenges are entertaining to play of course, but they also challenge your mind. By using these games just twenty minutes a day, you can have fun and learn how to think faster. Brain Age is not about merely about sitting down and playing for hours on end -- though you can do that if you desire to -- it is about continually training your brain. Ten to twenty minutes every day should more than suffice to complete all of the exercises, giving you quick mental stimulation while not eating away all of your time.

Now, while Brain Age is an excellent game, a complaint has been brought up against it. This needs to be addressed. Many claim that the handwriting and voice recognition system is terrible. Terrible? Obviously, it is not perfect, but it is much better than many suggest it is. Since the game is built for universal usage, there is nothing you need to do “train” the game to understand your handwriting or your voice. You play the game, and it figures that out.

At first, the game may not recognize some of your numbers or words. It may confuse your 5 with 9, or it may take your blue for black. When you first use Brain Age, you will no doubt experience some frustration as the game fails to understand what you intended to communicate to it, but that is where you need to do some work. By doing minor experimentation, you can easily discover ways to alter your construction of numbers or adjust your pronunciation so that the game can know your full meaning. The first few days might be a little rough in some aspects; however, with effort you should have little trouble having it recognize you by the third or fourth day.

So, that is the rundown of Brain Age. It is one of Nintendo's most innovative games to date, and it uses DS's capabilities in some of the most intriguing ways possible. You need to go out and buy this. You already know what the game consists of, and rest assured it is worth the twenty dollars reduction to your bank account. Why? That is a reasonable question, and there is an answer to that. Quite simply, there are 4 Reasons Why Brain Age is a Must Have Game. It does not matter who you are, as Brain Age is for everyone.

Reason 1: Increased Entertainment

Although many will not believe it, Brain Age is one of the most entertaining games on the market. The activities in it are fast paced, pleasurable, and addicting. Jotting down answers to basic arithmetic problems may not seem fun, but it is. Brain Age has an intense nature that makes even “mundane” challenges incredibly awesome to play. Since it only requires ten to twenty minutes out of your day, its replay value can stretch into months. While it will not take the place of the other games in your collection, Brain Age will nonetheless offer hours of great gaming.

Reason 2: Improved Thinking Skills

Yes, it is fun, but Brain Age is also an excellent way to improve your thinking skills. While there is no guarantee that it will instantly increase your grades by 8.6% or provide you with photographic memory, one thing is certain: it will help you utilize your brain more and enable you to learn better. Upon hearing this, many of you will no doubt retort by claiming that Brain Age is simply like homework.

Not true. Homework typically enhances your knowledge, but much of the time, it does virtually nothing to spruce your mind or activate your prefrontal cortex. Brain Age, however, is not about facts or formulas; it is about simple mental challenges that will improve your brain's functioning and possibly permit you to learn much more efficiently. To demonstrate your success, the game even features graphs that allow you to see how quickly you progress over time. It is not tedious; it is invigorating.

Reason 3: Better Parties

Some of you managed to slip past the first two reasons without feeling the urge to buy Brain Age. That avoidance of desire has to stop. Now. Ever gone to an all night gaming party? Did you feel tired in the morning hours; did you desire sleep once you came home in the afternoon? Well, if you had Brain Age that would not have happened.

Although it appears that Brain Age is all about academics, it is really about stimulating your mind, which is useful for dozens of events. All-nighters are an example of one those events. By using Brain Age for ten minutes every couple hours when you start feeling weary, you can jump start your brain, eliminating much of your exhaustion so that you can have more fun at any parties you attend. Its proven mind activation works better at keeping you awake than 83 ounces of Mountain Dew. Once you bring Brain Age into the picture, you will find that it is much easier to feel vitalized despite your lack of sleep.

This also goes for waking up in the early morning. Instead of slurping down seven cups of coffee when you arise at four-thirty, reach for Brain Age. It will liven you right up through its training techniques, and it will keep you going for much of the day. No caffeine -- just pure and healthy mental rejuvenation.

Reason 4: Elevated Social Status

Finally, if for nothing else, buy Brain Age because it will make both you and your DS look good. Video games have received tons of bad media lately, and this has caused the general opinion of gamers to plummet. However, few can argue with mental exercise. Brain Age is one of those rare games that you can take anywhere and show anyone; nearly everyone is receptive to it. And even if does not convince people to go out and buy a DS, at least they will look more favorably towards you next time you yank that DS out and begin to play it.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 05/18/06


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