Review: Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training
Posted 22 Jun 2006 at 17:20 by James
Let's make one thing quite clear before we start. 'Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain?' is very different to any other software on the Nintendo DS – in fact, it's unlike anything you'll have ever played before. Hell, it's not even a game. When you walk into your local games store and browse the new releases you will probably be looking for something to help you kick back and relax after a tough day (unless you're old enough to crack open the Jack Daniel's), but Brain Training insists that you do the opposite. When you've had a stressful day at school, college or in the office, the last thing you'd want is to have more puzzles and problems thrown at you – right?
Wrong. Yes, Brain Training may require more concentration and intelligence than your standard third-person-action-shooter-slaughterfest. Yes, it may be asking you to do arithmetic, forcing you to renege on your personal promise to avoid Maths forever after you passed the GCSE – and for the sake of entertainment, for crying out loud. But don't let the cosmic swirl of numbers and letters dissuade you from a gaming experience like no other. It's compelling, simple, and, almost unbelievably, good fun. What's more, it really does improve your brainpower – which means you can stick two fingers up at anyone who dares suggest that videogames rot the minds of players.
At its simplest, Brain Training can be described as WarioWare for intellectuals – simplistic presentation, bizarre sense of humour (although much more restrained than said franchise) and short bursts of play are the order of the day here. There is an assortment of challenges on offer, from memory tests to simple maths questions, to speed-reading to Sudoku; the software offers a variety of different options to those wishing to hone the power of their minds. All of these are designed to improve the brainpower of the user when completed every day as part of a routine. All of the different challenges can be done individually, or as part of a short series of tests designed to calculate your Brain Age. When you complete a test on one day, your results will be recorded in a graph and on a high score table, with the idea being that you improve your score – and ergo, your brain power – every day. There is great appeal in returning to these challenges day after day to improve your scores, but the main reason you'll come back to the software on a regular basis is to decrease your Brain Age.
This is calculated according to how well you complete a random selection of puzzles each day – all of which, brilliantly, are all done with either the stylus or inbuilt microphone, thanks to Brain Training's handwriting and voice recognition software. On completing the tests, Dr Kawashima – the man behind the game's concept and your in-game companion – calculates your Brain Age. The "younger" your brain is the better. Your Brain Age can go up, as well as down, however, and if you want to keep your mind at its peak, you will need to keep returning to your DS each day and practising. With up to four people able to create profiles, and results being shared among them all, the game offers an element of competition as you work to prove how smart you really are in comparison with your peers. And when you need something else to keep you occupied on the train or bus, there are dozens of Sudoku puzzles that can be completed at your leisure.
But the delightful concept and lust for (brain) power will only keep you occupied for so long. Eventually the game does grow tiresome, and you will drift off for another few levels of Dr. Action's Kill Your Foes (or whatever) instead. If you aren't into logic puzzles and memory tests, and you're a man of action rather than one of thought, this game is definitely not for you. But playing this – for however long you do end up playing it – is a pleasure, albeit a guilty one. It's certainly a strange experience to be enjoying doing your times tables, or reading passages from Poe's The Tell Tale Heart as quickly and clearly as you can out loud, but it's something that every DS owner should try. It might not grab you for long, but at the budget retail price, and for the utterly genius concept, it is worth adding to your collection. A curious, bizarre, but ultimately worthwhile experience.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Not what you bought your DS for, but give it a blast anyway. Makes you feel proud to be a geek.
Completely mental, in every sense.
Makes you feel clever.
Can be quite addictive.
Compete with friends!
Only entertaining for so long.
Occasionally a chore.
Your friends might be smarter than you are.