IGN Review of Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!
There are those who get incredible enjoyment out of regularly hitting the gym and working their ass off to stay thin and healthy. There are also those who dread the task and would rather get a long, hard root canal than spend even ten minutes on a stairclimber. Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day is the Nintendo DS equivalent of a Fitness Club, but instead of working out the body, it's the mind that this software's targeting. And like a gym membership, it's all up to the individual's particular tastes and motivation whether or not the actual workout will bring personal satisfaction. I doubt this game alone will stave off Alzheimer's when you're 80, but it's nice to know that Nintendo's looking out for your mental well being by producing a unique production that goes against the normal "game" grain. If the dozen or so brain exercises don't interest you on a daily basis, at least there's a stack of challenging Sudoku puzzles to wake up those synapses.
It's a tiring qualification, but it's still true: like Electroplankton and Nintendogs, Brain Age isn't really a game in the traditional Nintendo sense. This is another one of those projects that Nintendo hopes will appeal to an audience that's generally stayed away from the videogame market. Even with its "non-game" status, the Brain Age production is still fun with its own form of entertainment and challenge - answering simple math problems or counting word syllables in a phrase might not be exactly mind-bending for a majority of players, but since the result is ranked and posted like a high score, it's a challenge to the players to beat their best time. And, of course, all of these tasks are, according to the project's inspiration Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, working the mind and keeping it strong.
Even though the tasks are simple, they're still enough to require a bit of thought. Counting colored, spinning or pulsating numbers can get a bit challenging if you're trying to top the best time, and remembering how many people are left in a constantly filling and evacuating house is plenty enough to make that brain hurt. The ultimate goal in Brain Age is to lock down your brain's age at 20. There's really no science behind this age, but the rank does make Brain Age a watercooler game. It's easy to imagine players asking each other what their "brain age" is, and with Nintendo's "Download" feature, even people who don't have the cartridge can get a good idea of where their mind is in comparison to those who have been exercising their gray matter.
Just as it's important to hit the gym on a regular basis to really see the results of the workout, it's the same for Brain Age as the game's tracking your progress on a day to day basis. The science of it all isn't entirely accurate, since the game's calculating both speed and accuracy of data entry to determine how well you're performing - outside influences like poor penmanship or a raspy voice can adversely affect the daily ranking. But it's really helpful to see everything charted out in an easy to follow calendar, and it's nice to hear (read) the encouraging words from the virtual Dr. Kawashima. The more you do in Brain Age, the more that becomes available to do in the production - after a few daily sessions you'll add another exercise to the stack and increase the variety of Brain Age's daily challenges.
At the very least, this package brings some rather nifty DS technology to the surface. The game's handwriting recognition is surprisingly sharp and accurate, even with a few slip-ups that happen now and again. The voice recognition is a nice addition, but not quite as finely tuned as the handwriting engine. It only has to hear a set of words for two of the voice recognition challenges - black, red, yellow, blue, as well as numbers - but it seems to get hung up on specific words like "blue" from many of the editors in the office, myself included. What's needed is a "training" option to let the game know your own voice for those harder-to-recognize vocals, but since the game's trying to be as accessible as possible, the recognizer stays as general as it can, which unfortunately affects its accuracy, and ultimately, affects the results of your Brain Age training.
The handwriting recognition engine is what makes Sudoku so damn good on the Nintendo DS, since it can recognize both small and large written numbers to easily separate "note" numbers from the "answer" numbers. Sudoku will be many players' real reason for booting up Brain Age since this simple number puzzle design has risen in popularity in the past year thanks to daily newspaper challenges, and Nintendo doesn't disappoint because it's easily the finest digital Sudoku rendition yet developed. Oh, there have been standalone LCD versions and web-based editions, but thanks to the natural handwriting interface, Brain Age offers a very intuitive and organized way of solving the hundred different challenges. On the downside, there are only a hundred different puzzles, and that's an unfortunate thing considering Sudoku is a design that only needs a random generator to be infinitely playable. But at an average of 15 minutes a pop as a conservative estimate, it'll be a week of hardcore Sudoku playing before all of them are completed, and gives Nintendo opportunity to recycle this excellent DS engine in a fuller Sudoku puzzle scheduled, releasing later this year as Sudoku Gridmaster.
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