Sony's jumping on late to the brain-exercising bandwagon with Buzz Brain Bender for the PSP, its first stab at the genre made popular by the ever-smiling Dr Kawashima on the Nintendo DS. Brain Bender doesn't tread any new ground, but it does feature a series of well-presented puzzles with adjustable difficulties that should present a challenge for most craniums. It won't make you any smarter, but it can be a fun and interesting distraction.
Like its peers, Brain Bender features a series of puzzles that its creators say can help improve your mental agility (but in all likeliness it will probably just improve your skills at performing the puzzles contained within the game). In this case, the 16 included puzzles are broken up into four categories that test your observation, memory, analysis, and mathematical skills. All of the puzzles are presented in a multiple-choice format, with up to four possible answers to a problem mapped to the PSP's face buttons. You're scored on how many questions you get right after a set time limit, with the game charting your progress with each match.
Like other games in this genre, Brain Bender challenges you to improve your mental might over time. In addition to doing the individual puzzles, you can take a test that is made up of four random challenges that are then tallied into an overall score. From this, the game compares your results to a piece of electrical equipment (such as a toaster or remote-controlled car) in a pretty lame analogy of how much brain power you're pumping out. Unfortunately, the whole raison d'etre of a game like Brain Bender--that is, to test how well your mental agility improves over time--is hamstrung by the fact that it lets you test yourself as many times as you want each day. While other games in the genre limit your testing to once per day (which gives you a good indicator of progress as well as a reason to keep coming back), being able to test at any time devalues the results as, frankly, it doesn't feel as important.
There's some variety to be found in Brain Bender's puzzles, ranging from simple plus/minus equations to more complex pattern-recognition challenges. Some are quite taxing; for example, Shape Count asks you to quickly tally up the number of overlapping squares and triangles in an image, whereas Puzzle Pieces is a visual recognition task in which you have to identify which small jigsaw piece belongs in a larger image. Even if you fancy yourself as something of a mental maestro, Brain Bender features three difficulty levels for each game, so you should find a decent amount of challenge.
Going through 16 puzzles obviously isn't going to take you very long, but Brain Bender does have some tricks up its sleeves to keep you coming back. The varying difficulty levels certainly stretch out the experience, and Brain Bender includes its own set of achievements for completists to attempt. There are also 15 challenge levels that are unlocked as you play, with gameplay variations such as trying to get as many right answers as possible in a four-minute multipuzzle marathon or going for the longest streak of correct answers.
While Brain Bender can't be faulted for trying to stretch out its gameplay experience, it suffers from the same problem all games in this genre share--that is, any fun you're going to have here is all dependent on how fastidious an intellectual exerciser you are. You really need to be interested in your own mental progress to come back day after day, and even if you are, most of the puzzle types in Brain Bender just aren't interesting enough to propel it ahead of other games in the genre.
Brain Bender's puzzles are presented in a simple yet colourful manner, and it's generally pleasing to the eye. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the game's host. Virtual celebrity Buzz makes the leap from Sony's gameshow titles, and he's just as annoying and grating here. The only saving grace is that you can skip most of Buzz's introductions to the various puzzles with the press of a button.
Buzz aside, Brain Bender is a decent entry into the genre for Sony, although it doesn't do enough to distinguish itself from its peers. Nevertheless, if you're looking for a mental workout on the PSP, then Brain Bender definitely has the capacity to stretch your synapses.