E3 '07: Brain Age 2 Hands-On Preview

We go hands-on with the sequel to Nintendo's brain-teaser compendium.

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Given the breakaway success of the original Brain Age, the sequel is likely to be one of Nintendo's biggest games of the year. It's been quite a while coming, but Brain Age 2 is set to offer more than 10 new games, brand-new Sudoku puzzles, and an all-new multiplayer mode. While the game was on show at this year's E3, we picked up a copy of the full UK version of the game on the way over to LA. There's no better time to try to keep your brain active than during the world's biggest games show, so we've been spending the last week playing the game in between various press conferences and meetings.

Click to enlarge!
Click to enlarge!

On first appearance, Brain Age 2 looks identical to the previous game, with the same layout for all its games and options. First of all, there are a series of quick exercises that you can play during a spare five minutes. Then there's Sudoku, the famous and widely popular number game from Japan. But the main feature of the game remains the daily training mode, where you're awarded a "brain age" score from 20-80 and your progress is tracked over a period of time. However, there are a couple of cool new additions on the wireless side, with demos and multiplayer games that can be beamed across to other users. The best new feature is the ability to play up to 15 other people from one cartridge over wireless play, with four different games on offer.

We pooled our collective DSes to try out this mode at our E3 studio on the Santa Monica pier, and while it may have limited long-term appeal, it was certainly a lot of fun. Versus picture quiz asks you and your friends to draw a series of pictures, and the winner is decided democratically based on votes from all participants. Gold, silver, and bronze medals are awarded to the top scorers, and the game then ranks individual players overall. The second game on offer, versus word scramble, challenges players to decipher a word from a selection of spinning letters. The quickest to write the correct answer on the touch screen is the winner, and the words become longer and more difficult as you progress. Versus Memorise 5x5 is a horribly difficult game where you have to remember 25 different numbers and their positions for two minutes and then recall them on the touch screen. The final game, versus correct change, is the fastest-paced of the bunch. You basically have to work out the correct change to give from different amounts of cash. Once you've figured out the right amounts, you have to tap on the coins on the touch screen to reach that number and then hit select. The British version uses sterling currency, but we presume this will be changed to dollars for the US release.

As well as new multiplayer modes and minigames, there are some really neat new single-player games. Rock, paper, scissors is a particular favorite--a speech-based take on the schoolground game where you have to say the answers into the DS mic. However, as well as saying the winning answers (rock to beat scissors, for example), you sometimes have to give the losing answer, so the game keeps you on your toes. Memory addition is a new take on the arithmetic puzzles of the first game. As you complete simple additions, one number from the previous calculation is hidden and a new one is added. This means that as well as being able to quickly add up, you have to be able to memorize the numbers from each previous equation.

There are also plenty of new additions to the daily training mode. Word blend is a hearing recognition game where many different words are read out from the DS's speaker at once. Not only do you have to recognize each of the words individually (a speech bubble diagram on the left screen will show you how many there are), but you also need to be able to spell the words correctly. Missing symbols is another arithmetic-based game, but this time you're given two numbers and an answer. You need to write the correct symbol, be it +, -, x, or /, so that the equation reaches the correct answer. One of the more random games will theoretically help you to read music and play the piano. It's called masterpiece recital, and it features a number of famous tunes that you need to play on a touch-screen keyboard. The tunes may look fairly simple, but it takes quite a few attempts to play them with any sort of melody.

Click to enlarge!
Click to enlarge!

Brain Age 2 is a lot of fun, adding all-new games that will still be familiar to fans of the original game. The biggest reason to upgrade is arguably the multiplayer mode, which is not only a lot of fun, but also requires only one cartridge to play between 16 players. The single-player games are also just as tricky as before, although handwriting-recognition problems still prove to be irksome. We'll have a full review of Brain Age 2 soon.

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