Brain Age is a solid (and cheap!) marriage of education and gameplay

User Rating: 7.6 | Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day! DS
Video games and education never really got along together. You know, we’d try to arrange playdates, but it’d always end up with the games sitting on the couch eating cheetos and forcing the education to do his homework for him. Whenever education tries to stand up to video games, it just ends up with a twisted arm and has to run home to mommy. Brain Age is basically another playdate, but one that absolutely exploded in Japan and has now been brought to the rest of the world. Does the marriage of the two elements finally work? More or less, it actually does, and is well worth the budget price.

The basic concept of Brain Age is that performing certain activities daily will enhance your mental capacity and make your brain work more efficiently, and your progress can be tracked by checking the relative age of your brain daily. The activities include such seemingly regular choices such as reading out loud or solving simple calculations to more fast-paced games like having to remember a group of numbers and rank them low-to-high or keep track of people entering and leaving a house at lightening pace. None take too long, which stays true to the game’s slogan, which is that it will train your brain in minutes a day.

Basically, that slogan does sum up one important part of the game. You should not buy this game and expect to play it for hours on end. Once you have completed each activity once in a day, the game will no longer record statistics until the next day. The same goes for the brain age checks, so if you do better at five o’clock than you did at three, then you are still stuck with the worse score. You’ll probably want to play for about twenty minutes per day and then wait until tomorrow.

If the game had allowed the tracking of multiple scores in one day, some of the games could be very replayable. Low-to-High is actually very fun and easy to get into, and Triangle Math is challenging enough to garner a few tries. A couple of the games, such as Syllable Count and Reading Aloud, have only one set available per day, so replayability goes right out the window for them. Other games like Time Lapse and Word Memory just aren’t interesting enough to be played multiple times.

The skill of the player has absolutely zero bearing on how the other games are unlocked. While you only start off with two forms of Calculations and Reading Aloud, you can easily unlock every game by simply getting stamps each day. To get a stamp, all you have to do is play one game in a day. Since games like Calculations x20 can take a little as twenty seconds if you’re good, this is certainly not a difficult task. After your twentieth stamp, every game will be available to you. This can actually be fairly tedious, as it leaves you waiting for the other games as opposed to being able to simply playing through the other games to unlock later games. It is also a setup for disappointment, as the two final games after Triangle Math are not worth writing home about.

As mentioned above, the game also has a method used to check the age of your brain once per day. The test gives you three random challenges (most of which aren’t available to play in training mode, unfortunately) that will determine how well the overall efficiency of your brain is. While games like Number Cruncher (which has you count objects on the screen with specific characteristics) and Connect Maze (in which you must connect numbers and letters in a specific order) are good enough that they should have been in the main game, but others like Speed Counting (which is simply count to 120 as fast as possible with no way are actually proving you counted) are just lazy.

While the game does come with a 16-player calculation showdown option available with single card play (which I have never personally tried), the main draw to the game for many may well end up being the numerous Sudoku puzzles that come with the game. The often intense number game has become a worldwide phenomenon, and the game is incorporated quite well into Brain Age. There are 100 puzzles available with varying difficulties and recorded times, as well as the option to have the game stop you if you write an incorrect answer. Since the puzzles should take at least ten to fifteen minutes each on average the first time through, that alone is more than twenty hours of gameplay, making the game worth purchasing for that alone if you are a Sudoku enthusiast.

The game obviously makes heavy use of the technologies made available by the DS. Everything in the game is either written out or spoken, with not a single use for the buttons (aside from the occasional Easter egg). The number recognition is surprisingly apt from the get-go. The only two numbers that tend to cause problems are the 9, which must be written more like a lower case G than the more traditional stick with a ball poking off I’m used to, and the 4, which must be written in one fluid motion. Once you get used to it, the number writing is very easy with only the occasional hiccup.

Voice recognition is not quite as good. The first time you try the Stroop Test, which requires you to say the colour of the word rather than the actual word, be prepared to say ‘blue’ about fifty times before the game recognizes it. You must speak in near-complete monotone for the game to recognize, but it also becomes easy to work with once you get some practice. Since there is no calibration process, the performance of the voice recognition is actually quite impressive.

The part that never seems to work right is the letter recognition, which is thankfully only necessary in Word Memory. If your handwriting isn’t perfect, the game will rarely accept your letter and constantly show the wrong one. Lower case As are especially difficult, as they must be written in the typewriter form. Also, since you can’t erase individual letters, the entire word must be restarted, leading to much lower than normal scores in the game than normal. Since it only appears in one game, it isn’t all that big a deal, but it still can be very frustrating.

One minute disappointment from the game is that there is no way to trade scores with another player, which would definitely be good for putting a more competitive spirit into the game. However, up to four profiles can be placed on one cartridge, which emphasizes family playing. In fact, the game is playable by basically anyone caring to try. I’ve seen my parents play it and my mother actually become addicted to it. Since you can compare scores with other profiles, there is a certain competitive spark that may easily arise. This is actually probably one of the best games on the DS for non-gamers, and with a mere twenty-five dollar price tag, it is definitely worth trying out even on a lark.

The big question is whether or not Brain Age actually makes you smarter. Well, I know that after failing miserably at performing simple calculations without a calculator at first, I can now wiz through such mind-bending questions as 7 x 8. Whether or not it actually applies to real life and overall brain efficiency is not for me to tell. What I can tell is that, for the $25 price tag, you really can’t go wrong with Brain Age. Sure, it’s a little repetitive and has some technical issues, but it can be fun at times, has plenty of Sudoku puzzles and is truly fun for all ages. It’s not a classic and probably won’t be well remembered a couple months after purchase if you don’t have anyone to compare scores with, but it may be worth checking out for a simple cheap DS title.