NEW YORK--Games like Brain Age and Big Brain Academy are currently storming Japanese software charts in a manner unseen since the heyday of Pokémon. They're not doing too poorly in America either, if Nintendo's hinted-at sales figures are to be believed. So it's not the least bit surprising that we came upon a playable demo of Big Brain Academy for the forthcoming Wii at the company's press event today, and we naturally dove right in to see where Nintendo is taking one of its biggest new franchises in its first appearance on television screens.
There wasn't a lot included in this demo--only three minigames were available for play--but we can see how, if Nintendo adds enough content, this one could have legs with the mainstream and casual gaming set for a long time. But to back up a little, we began the demo by selecting from a number of premade Mii-style characters who were hanging out in a stable at the bottom of the screen. (Presumably, you'll be able to use your own Mii in the final game.) After we picked the nerdiest character we could find, we were able to jump right into a heated two-player competitive match against a Nintendo rep.
The three minigames in the demo were simple but still challenging, and they all used the remote as a mouse-style point-and-click device. One of them presented us with a stack of three blocks, each bearing numbers, as well as a sum in the upper corner. Our job was to quickly whack the numbers that didn't belong out of the stack, so the remaining blocks would add up to the desired total. Taking out one of the blocks with a required number naturally would make you fail this game. Not that this ever happened to us, mind you.
The second minigame presented two nearly identical pictures--the lower one was merely missing a couple of elements, like a star and a cloud--and we had to rapidly place the absent objects in the right place to succeed. The biggest catch here was that often the second picture was flipped horizontally, so it took a second to process what we were seeing and figure out where everything should go (though, forgivingly, the game wouldn't let us place objects in the wrong spot). Finally, the third game was somewhat Tetris-like in that it showed us one block pattern (with the borders between blocks removed) and another with all the discrete blocks, plus one or two. Our job was to punch out the block or blocks that would cause the remaining blocks to fall into the specific pattern presented above. These may not sound like complicated games, but when you're racing both your opponent and the clock, you've got to think fast.
At any rate, we began our rapid-fire two-player match and were surprised to see that not only do the games seem to come at you in a random fashion, but our opponent wasn't even playing them in the same order that we were. The whole thing was pretty chaotic, but it was certainly easy enough to get into and play with the remote, and we were feeling much smarter when it was all over. We're interested to see what other games will be in the final version of this first iteration of Big Brain Academy on a major console, as well as the other ways in which Nintendo ties the game into the Wii's myriad unique functions.