Review by ShyningFade

Reviewed: 05/07/06

A game that makes you feel stupid; but that's a good thing

It's no surprise to anyone that Nintendo is an innovator. Often times they are accused of offering "gimmicky", childish software, but for fans eager to try something different, Nintendo might have just what they're looking for.

First Impressions:

I remember feeling a bit confused when Nintendo first announced this game. I know they were aiming to play the role of "disruptor", but how could a game focused on training your brain work - let alone sell?

But leave it to Nintendo to show the world how a dual-screened, touch-screen compatible system could pull it off - and amazingly at that.

Game play:

The concept is simple. Complete various training exercises and be graded according to your precision and speed. (Strangely enough, this is all done while the DS is held sideways.) After completing the training exercises, you can then test your brain to see how "old" it is by undergoing a series of tests, much like the training exercises. The ideal age is age 20, so any age beyond that shows that you have much improvement to do.

The tests vary from simple arithmetic and word memorization to problem solving and counting the amount of syllables in a sentence. For some (okay fine, for MANY), i'm sure that this barely sounds like an ideal gaming experience. But that's the point.

This software allows you do accomplish basic tasks in order to give your brain the exercise it needs to stay healthy. The best part of it all, is that it exclusively uses the touchscreen, and sometimes the microphone, in a very unique way, which makes it very user friendly. Thanks to it's interface, Brain Age is something parents, siblings, and even grandparents can enjoy.

Let me give an example of how this all works out. Lets say you decide to try out the first exercise, Calculations x 20. As mentioned earlier, your DS will be turned sideways while you play the game. The reasoning for this is simple. It allows the game to show you your objective (in this case, the math problem) on the left screen, while you write the answer on the touchscreen, as you hold the DS as if it were a book. It seems a lot more comfortable this way, and I can only hope that other developers decide to use this technique.

Getting back on track, let's say it says 4 x 5 on the left screen. You'd then scribble a 20 on the touchscreen. This is all possible thanks to some great handwriting recognition software, although it can be a little touchy at times. I have the most trouble writing 4s and 8s personally, but once you figure out what the software is expecting to see, it becomes a lot easier to write down the correct answer.

By answering the questions quickly and correctly, your score is added up. You receive penalties for incorrect answers, so it's often better to take another second or two to get the right answer instead of jumping the gun. Unlike most games, there isn't a real goal (aside from getting your brain age to 20), but thanks to a handy graphing system, it shows your progress from day to day. It's a great feeling to see yourself finishing tests in seconds that you were once only able to accomplish in minutes.

And speaking of Brain Age, you should check your Brain Age every so often, just to see how your training is paying off.
The Brain Age Check is similar to the training exercises, but offers more diverse tests.
One of the tests is a stroop test, which uses the microphone. Colored words will show on the screen, and it's up to you to announce the color, but not the word shown to you.
Like the handwriting recognition, it's a little touchy at times, but once you get a feel for the correct distance and volume you should have no trouble at all.

After completing three tests, the game presents you with your Brain Age. Usually, most people will start the game with a high Brain Age, but it's very rewarding to see your progress as the weeks go by.

So when it comes to actual "game play", this game should almost be considered an anti-game. There is no real goal, and it should fall in line with other Nintendo titles such as Animal Crossing and Nintendogs.

Graphics and Sound:

To be honest, the graphics and sound shouldn't be an issue at all when approaching this sort of game. However, Nintendo manages to provide a clean, crisp presentation with easy to read font.

Your virtual guide, Dr. Kawashima, is presented in a rather blocky 3d form. Aside from him, the game is mainly text and borders, but that does not affect the game play in any way.

Brain Age's music has this "futuristic" appeal to it, trumpeting various bleeps and chimes which seem to remind me of a scientist's lab. Again, it does what it's supposed to, but don't expect to run out and find a soundtrack for this title.

Closing Thoughts:

If you're looking for a game that's unique and a breath of fresh air, do yourself a favor and pick up this fine piece of software. It's amazing to see Nintendo follow through with their promises and deliver games that can truly be shared with the entire family.

And if the main "game" itself doesn't hold your attention, the game comes preloaded with 100 sudoku puzzles for you to try.

Just keep in mind - for all your high score seekers and perfectionists, this is probably not the game for you. It's pretty depressing to see piles of this great game in the used section at your local video game store, as the player benefits from the more he/she plays it.

This is NOT a game for everyone. Think of it as "school in a video game". With that being said, if you are interested in self-improvement or are just curious, by all means, pick this game up. I highly recommend it.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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