Review by The Vic Viper

Reviewed: 10/11/06

For something that's educational, this is a lot of fun.

Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minuets a Day! is not so much a game as a series of tests, and yet it still manages to be incredibly fun. It is based on the work of Dr. Ryuta Kawashima (who “stars” in Brain Age) and consists of nine puzzles designed to be played daily and a three part “Brain Age Check”. After you complete three randomly selected puzzles you are given a score between twenty and seventy, which is supposed to represent the age of your brain (lower being better). As a bonus, a ton of Sudoku puzzles have been included, with a range of difficulty among them.

The nine puzzles designed to be played daily are not used to calculate your Brain Age but are meant to be used for practice. While they do not affect your Brain Age, you are given a score that is recorded so you can see if you are improving significantly over time.

Daily Training

The daily tests are quite varied – some are mathematical while others are language based, most are written but one is verbal, some are straightforward while others are a bit more complex. In the beginning only a few of the exercises are available, the rest are unlocked after you’ve played for a specific number of days. Additionally, if you get enough stamps, a “hard mode” version of some exercises will be unlocked.

Calculations x 20 - Twenty straightforward two-number addition, subtraction, and multiplication problems.

Calculations x 100 - Just like Calculations x 20, except there are 100 problems. The biggest problem with this exercise is that several problems end up being repeated, though usually much later in the test. This exercise has a hard mode which includes division problems.

Reading Aloud - You read a short excerpt from classic novel and then it calculates how many syllables per second you read. While it is called “Reading Aloud”, you don’t actually have to read out loud. The problem with this exercise is that if you go too quickly it assumes you are cheating and ends the exercise early, so you have to repeat it. Unfortunately it is a bit oversensitive, so you end up having to force yourself to slow down out of fear of it kicking you out. Therefore, you end up with a score lower than what you should have.

Low to High - A group of numbers will appear on the screen for a few seconds and then disappear. You then have to tap the location on the screen where the numbers were, from lowest to highest. The puzzles start out with only four numbers to remember, but as you get more correct, you will have to remember more and more numbers (up to ten).

Syllable Count - You get a sentence and count the number of syllables, usually between four and twenty. Some sentences are very short and/or consist of only one syllable words, while others are much longer or contain more complex words.

Head Count - An interesting exercise where you have to count the number of people entering a house from the left and leaving it from the right, and then figure out how many remain in the house at the end. There are five rounds, and it starts off very easy with people entering and leaving at different times. During the later rounds more people move at once, people enter and leave at the same time, and move much faster. The hard mode involves people entering and leaving from the roof as well as the sides.

Triangle Math - Another fun exercise – you are shown three numbers in a row and you have to perform some math function on the first and second numbers, the second and third numbers, and then on the two results. For the most part it is addition, however in the last half you have to do a mix of addition and subtraction problems. Additionally, you will have to deal with negative numbers for the last couple. In hard mode, you start out with four numbers and have to do three sets of equations.

Time Lapse - Two (analog) clocks are shown; you have to tell how much time has past between the first and second. A simple test, but very hard for those of us who don’t use anything besides digital clocks these days.

Voice Calculation - This fifty problem set is much like the Calculation exercises, however instead of writing the numbers out, you say them out loud. This is probably the weakest aspect of the [non-]game since the DS will often misunderstand you or not recognize that you spoke to it. It often confuses “five” and “seven”, though it would be different for everyone. This part can get frustrating since it can take several tries for it to realize that you are giving the correct answer.

Brain Age Check

When you opt to use the Brain Age Check, you take three tests out of six. Normally which tests you take are chosen randomly by the computer, though you can tell it not to give you tests that require speaking. Five of these tests are different than the ones found in the daily training, and overall are significantly easier. It is possible to decide for yourself which three tests to take, so you can make it easier or harder than normal if you want.

Word Memory - A list of thirty words (all four letters long) appears for two minuets, and then you have three minuets to input as many as you can remember. The words are all unrelated, so this is quite difficult (if you don’t cheat, that is). The system will occasionally have trouble recognizing letters, especially u’s and v’s, though with enough practice you learn to write in a way that it can understand.

Stroop Test - The most evil test ever created by man, the Stroop Test. Basically, the name of a color appears on screen in a different color (so “blue” will appear on screen, but it will be written in yellow). You have to say the color the word is written in and not read the word itself. This is actually a very hard test because you are trying to do it as quickly as possible, so you don’t have time to think about it. Unfortunately this is the worst test when it comes to the system misunderstanding you as it has a lot of trouble with all of the colors, especially blue.

Speed Counting - The simplest test; you have to count from 1 to 120 as quickly as possible, preferably out loud. There is no voice recognition, so you don’t have to worry about it misunderstanding you.

Connect Maze - Thirteen numbers (1 – 13) and thirteen letters (A – M) are show on screen, and you have to connect them in order, alternating between letters and numbers. In other words, you connect A to 1 to B to 2 to C, and so on.

Number Cruncher - A random number of random digits of random color will appear on the screen and move randomly. You will be asked a question about them, such as “How many 9’s?”, “How many black numbers?”, or “How many rotating numbers?”. Very straightforward, and how difficult the test is overall depends on what questions you get.

Calculations x 20 - Just like the Daily Training exercise.

As an added bonus, there are around a hundred Sudoku puzzles to play. While it does record your progress and completing times, it doesn’t influence your Brain Age. The puzzles are broken into three different skill levels, and some of them can be quite challenging. If you’re a huge fan of Sudoku, this alone might be enough to warrant a purchase.

Brain Age is fun, though it is far from flawless. The Stroop test is basically unusable, though since you can manually select from the other five the entire Brain Age Check is still usable. However, with the all-too-frequent handwriting recognition errors during the Word Memory test, you’re down to only four tests you can use for your Brain Age check. It is more than enough to get a score, but Nintendo should have done better. Of all the tests, the Stroop test was the only one that I could not get through. Even the Verbal Counting is doable, though you score will probably be a bit lower that it should since you spend a fair amount of time repeating yourself.

The other grip with the game is that Kawashima can get annoying after a while. After every exercise he gives you a tip – some are about keeping your brain active/healthy and some are about using the software. This is all well and good, except that there are a limited number of tips which you get through in a day or two, so you are constantly hearing the same thing over and over again.

He will also (once a day) force you to draw three pictures for him before he will let you into the main menu. It doesn’t record the pictures or give you a score so you can just rush through it, but it would have been nice if it was optional. Just another minor grip though.

Flaws aside, Brain Age is a lot of fun and worth getting. Perhaps it is because you only have to play for a few minuets a day that the problems seem exceptionally minor. It will probably take you a day or so to get used to the best way to speak and write so that the system understands you. Once you do get used to it, you shouldn’t have any trouble, except for the above mentioned problem tests. In the end it is one of the few “games” that is both educational and entertaining (and not designed for kids under 10).

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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