Well, the results are in: I'm stupid. This isn't something I was on the fence about -- I cheer for the Chicago Bears and bought a Sega Saturn -- but if there was any doubt to my educational inaptitude, Hot Brain has arrived to remove it.
I don't know my ABCs.
I mean, I know them. I can recite the song for you, but when I boot up Hot Brain, take my daily test and get stuck with Alphabet -- a game where I need to arrange four words in alphabetical order -- I can feel life kicking my teeth in. Here I am 24 and an editor, and I can't put the words "gridiron, jumper, holly" and "irrespective" in order without humming that damn song.
One of the 15 mind-bending exams on Hot Brain, the newest UMD from Midway, is sure to make you feel like all those years in a molded plastic chair were worthless. Working your mind over in five different categories -- logic, memory, math, language and concentration -- Hot Brain's tests range from ordering four numbers from highest to lowest to remembering a set of sounds and pictures Simon-style to deciphering how three images are related and picking a fourth to finish the sequence.
If it sounds monotonous, Hot Brain does its best to spice things up. The loose story behind the title is that you're the newest recruit at the Hot Brain Institute, a big old mansion of wacky experiments. You'll be put through a series of tests -- a floor in the place is dedicated to each of the aforementioned categories -- and the institute will study your results to see if you're improving. You even get Dr. Warmer (voiced by Fred Willard, star of Christopher Guest movies and that one admissions guy from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle) to walk you through each game's instructions and usher you from floor to floor while dispensing tantalizing tidbits -- Einstein didn't speak until he was three, the memory lab keeps forgetting to clean up, etc.
So how is your score recorded? Brain temperature. Warmer believes that tough word, math and other puzzles make you think harder, thinking harder means more blood is flowing to your brain, and if more blood's flowing to your brain, your brain will be warmer. He wants you to ace these exams and get your brain to 120 degrees. Granted that would kill a normal human being, but in this game it's "On Fire," and that's what you want. Lukewarm, Cold and Icy are all ratings to be avoided -- whip that mind into shape.
There are three gameplay modes for you to get your learn on. Practice lets you loose on whichever test you feel like, Test chooses five exams to determine your brain temperature for the day and plots it on a progress chart, and Multiplayer gives you two modes to play with your friends. The two to four players games are ad-hoc only, and there's no game sharing function. You can join forces in Think Tank to try and raise the temperature of a brain together or face off in Brain Race and see who can reach "Red Hot" first. Whichever mode you choose, the novelty of Hot Brain will be renewed -- it's bad enough when you look like an idiot alone, but the added pressure of trying to answer correctly in front of your friends and cursing the same problems is a nifty feature.
But as much fun as multiplayer can be, there are a few things that are going to hold Hot Brain back from being a breakout game for the PSP like Brain Age was for the DS. To begin with, loading is a bear in this one -- not in length but in frequency. It seems as if every time you move to another screen -- whether it's from the test selection screen to the difficulty selection or the end of a game to the result screen -- the PSP needs a second to center itself. Sometimes it's a full-fledged loading screen and sometimes it's just a second-long stutter, but it's always annoying -- especially considering that only a few games break away from a written question on a dull white background.
I don't think the abstract scoring and achievement premise of the game works either. Brain Age is pretty simple, you want to hone your skills and get your estimated age as low as you can. That makes sense. Hot Brain is equally as simple but backward; you want your brain's temperature to get as hot as possible. I don't have to be a graduate of Hollywood Upstairs Medical College to tell you that a hot brain is bad. Even Mike from the database team knows that.
SCENE: I'm playing Back Seat Driver -- a logic game where I have to look at a series of arrows and figure out where a taxi cab is going to stop based on those arrows -- and Mike walks up.
Mike: What's the point of this game?
Greg (that's me): You want to get your brain hot. Y'know, get more blood flowing up there.
Mike: What's the highest it can get?
Greg (still me): One hundred twenty degrees.
Mike: Yeah, you'd be dead.
Plotting my made-up brain temperature on a chart each day really didn't draw me in, and neither did the calories in practice mode. You'll play a round, get your temperature and get rewarded with exorbitant amount of calories. The calories -- I assume -- get added to this achievement meter next to the difficulty level you're playing on, and when the meter is full, the next difficulty is unlocked. However, the meter never uses numbers or makes any reference to calories. The term and numbers only appear at the end of a practice game. Are these calories I'm supposed to be burning with my made-up brain temperature? Is it healthy to burn 1,600 in one sitting? Is unlocking another difficulty really an "achievement?" These might be the real brain-teasers of Hot Brain.
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