Friday, July 6, 2007

More Brain Training from Dr. Kawashima: How Old Is Your Brain? mini-review

In 2005 Nintendo released the first Brain Age game. Sales weren't spectacular but with word of mouth it soon became one of the best selling DS games in Japan. It even stayed in the top ten charts for months after it was released. When it was finally released (as Brain Training) in Europe 12 months ago it also saw a similar sales pattern. As of January 2007, 2 million copies of Brain Age were sold to 'non-gamers' and gamers alike, in Europe alone. Total worldwide sale currently stands at above 10 million copies. The success of Brain Age/Training is indicative of the path Nintendo is currently following - catering to people who would not otherwise invest in anything video gaming related. It has also reversed the fortunes of Nintendo (from a lame duck to leader in the video gaming industry) and contributed the the cultural phenomenon that is the Nintendo DS (and Lite).

Seeing how easy it was to develop the first game (it only took 3 months from conception to development), it would be stupid for Nintendo (and their competitors - the original Brain Age effectively spawned a whole new legitimate genre) to ignore such a money making franchise. The original Brain Age was a successful proof of concept that it was possible to produce a cheap 'edutainment' product and it would still be successful. Nintendo soon produced plenty of other 'Touch Generation' products such as English Training, Big Brain Academy and General Knowledge Training. It comes as no surprise that the most successful of the Touch Generation product would see a direct 'sequel'. That is where Brain Age 2/More Brain Training comes in.

Obviously not true!

Like the original 'game', More Brain Training has the usual Brain Age check which allows you to check your 'brain age'. These are based on random exercises which are different from those included in the first Brain Age. One of them requires you to use the microphone. Fortunately it isn't the flawed Stroop Test, which routinely failed to register the word 'blue', from the first game. This new microphone test is the one you probably have seen on those Nicole Kidman telly ads where players have a match with the A.I. in a twisted 'Rock, Paper, Scissors' game. For example the screen will show a hand with a 'scissors' pose and asks you to 'win'. As rock defeats scissors you have to say 'rock'. On the other hand if the game requests you to 'lose' you have to say 'paper'.

There are also now 11 new exercises in the training section such as the 'Correct Change' training for budding cash register hopefuls and the wonderful 'Masterpiece Recital' where you are required to follow a music sheet and press the correct piano key on a virtual keyboard. One of the more difficult and annoying exercise is 'Word Blend' where the game will speak several words simultaneously. A player must listen to the spoken words and write down the words that were spoken. It gets progressively harder as the stage progress with more words being being spoken together. Another exercise featured here is based on the very popular (and my personal favourite) 'Calculations x 20' from the first game (my record is 11 seconds). Instead of doing simple arithmetic calculations, in 'Missing Symbols' all the numbers are displayed in the equation but the player is required to complete the missing mathematical symbol.

While some may have to get used to the handwriting recognition system, I never had a problem with the system in this or the original game. Perhaps it is because I am used to writing on touchscreens since the Palm Vx days, but it shows that you do not need a massive processor for mundane tasks like recognising ones handwriting (Apple, do take note), a testament to the talented people at Nintendo. However like the original stroop test, 'Rock, Paper, Scissors' does suffers from not recognising my voice at times. You can always avoid the exercise, as personally it feels more like a tech demo to demonstrate the DS's microphone capability than a required software for measuring your mentality.

More Brain Training is certainly an oddity. The training games here are fun but challenging in comparison to the first game, which I really enjoyed (and continued to play weekly). Even Dr. Kawashima's reassuring but funny disembodied head is also still present. As a bonus the game also comes with 100 extra Sudoku games, an obvious target at London's ever Sudoku addict tube commuters. However as a gamer I do hope that Nintendo do not ignore their 'core' audience. Games like More Brain Training is nice but if given the choice I would rather have a Fire Emblem cartridge in my DS Lite slot. Either way More Brain Training is a good 'sequel' that more than deserves your attention. But Nintendo, don't forget about us Fire Emblem fans.


UK non-gamers can buy it now from Amazon with free delivery. International gamers can import it from Play-Asia.


carolina said...

The European version of Brain Age 1 included some sudoku puzzles. If you get bored already, you should visit Domo-Sudoku which provides good brain training exercises.


online brain training said...

I use sudoku everyday, no need for fancy software.