Brain Age Hands-On

We get a quick peek at the US version of Nintendo's unique brain teaser for the DS.

When Nintendo released the game now known as Brain Age in Japan last summer, the unique title was a first for the dual-screen system and probably a first for games in general. While not a game in the traditional sense of the word, the title was a collection of minigames developed in collaboration with Touhoku University professor Ryuuta Kawashima. The minigames are based on the concepts from Kawashima's research, which revolves around the belief that certain types of activities stimulate the human brain and help keep an individual's mind sharp. The title was a phenomenal success in Japan and actually helped sell hardware. Given the game's popularity overseas, Nintendo is aiming to release the title to the US in April and hopes that it will connect with US audiences. We recently had a chance to take a brief look at a localized version of the game to see how it's shaping up.

The demo we tried had two modes, brain training and brain age, which are only a sampling of what the full game has to offer. Brain training is (horror of horrors) a math drill. You'll hold the Nintendo DS sideways as math problems scroll up the left side of the screen. Your task is to write the answers to the problems as quickly as you can on the touch screen. A green checkmark will appear by those you get right; blow it, though, and they'll be marked with the red X of shame. The problems we dealt with were simple addition, subtraction, and multiplication, and, while manageable, they stirred up our old math phobias. Still, we persevered and made it through fine. Though it wasn't a stunning display of technology, we must say that we were impressed by the touch screen's ability to recognize our hand-written answers.

The other mode we tried, brain age, was a series of cognitive tests that required us to look at words that appeared on both DS screens while we held the unit sideways. The test we tried required us to say into the DS microphone the color of a word that appeared at various locations on the screens. While this sounds easy enough, you should expect some mental misfires. The twist to this exercise is that the word displayed in our test, for example, was black, but there were more than a few times when we would read the word itself rather than saying the color of its font, such as red or blue. The DS's voice recognition, via the built-in mic, worked well.

Though what we tried was a small sampling of what the proper game has to offer, we were pleased by what we saw of Brain Age. The game's visuals may not be cutting edge (based on what we saw, the closest 3D imagery was the good professor's head, which popped up to explain things and offer encouragement), but the gameplay is addictive. Brain age is currently set to ship this April for the Nintendo DS, so look for more on the game in the coming weeks.

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