Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day is Nintendo’s latest non-traditional entry on the Nintendo DS. After convincing hundreds of thousands of people to play with imaginary dogs, Nintendo is now trying to get us to shell out $20 to do basic addition and multiplication, and guess what? It’s going to work.
Brain Age is based on the work of Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, a Professor of Neuroscience who specializes in exercises that stimulate the brain. The basic premise of the game is that by performing the included training tasks, your brain will become more fit, and you may potentially become even smarter. The good doctor will be along with you for the entire ride, occasionally annoying you with his commentary on your horizontal DS. Yep, that’s right, you’ll actually rotate your DS, holding it on its side like a book, making you look that much more academic.
Once a day, you’ll be able to take a “Brain Age Check” which runs through three random tests to calculate your “Brain Age.” The ideal brain age is 20 years old, though yours is determined through your daily performance in these tests. Additionally, you’re able to take individual “Daily Training Tests” for which you receive a stamp for the day. As you collect more stamps throughout the days and weeks, you’ll unlock even more training tests to keep you occupied.
The program only records your score for your first attempt of the day at each training test, as well as your first brain age check. You may still choose to run through the tests again that day should you wish, though at that point, it’s just for practice and personal entertainment. The tests entail a variety of basic mathematic and reading exercises, as well as some popular logic, memorization and observational tests.
Some examples of the tests that are included in Brain Age include speed run of basic math questions in groups of 20 and 100, as well as simply reading passages out loud, word memorization, and my personal favorite, “low to high,” which requires you to rapidly memorize the locations of numbers in a set patterns.
Brain Age uses the touch-screen and microphone capabilities of the DS to the fullest and skips over the D-Pad and buttons entirely. For math quizzes and word memorization, you’ll be required to write out your answers, which is very cool though frustrating at first as the hand-writing recognition is surprisingly good, but not perfect.
For training exercises like the “Stroop Test”, you’ll actually talk to your DS. With “Stroop,” you’ll be shown the words “red, blue, yellow and black” and then asked to tell the DS what color they are. The DS has a difficult time recognizing the word “blue,” which is frustrating. Once you get used to the quirks in the handwriting and voice-recognition, you’ll be nailing input 95% of the time.
Shockingly, Brain Age is addictive, despite feeling like a collection of exercises for fifth and sixth graders. I noticed myself making sure I ran several exercises every day and kept up my age checks. Brain Age keeps records of your progress so that you can track your improvement (hopefully) and compare against the other three save slots on your card, and if you leave your DS around, they will suddenly become full.
The biggest downside to Brain Age is the limited number of games that are used to calculate your actual “brain age.” Instead of randomly choosing any of the training games you’ve opened up, it limits you to three or four separate, non-training tests. As an aside, it should be noted that my test scores are only improving because I’m merely developing better strategies as opposed to developing a fitter brain.
Wi-Fi functionality comes in the form of a downloadable demo and a “calculation competition.” Not exactly mind-blowing multiplayer content, but the demo does a nice job of introducing newcomers to Brain Age by including a quick Brain Age Check and a Training Game. Still, why not include a great multiplayer strategy game to help train that brain?
Brain Age includes a couple hundred “Sudoku” logic puzzles, which are all the rage these days. After trying out several other Sudoku games on the market, I can safely say that Brain Age probably has the best input engine of the bunch. Sadly, Nintendo chose not to include a random Sudoku puzzle generator, which would’ve increased the amount of replayability by hundreds of hours. In any case, this version of Sudoku adds a significant amount of additional value, but perhaps Nintendo is looking to make some more cash with Sudoku in a future game or the expected Brain Age sequels.
At $20, Brain Age is a steal, especially for the non-traditional gamer. I don’t see the teen crowd getting very excited about this, but everyone else sitting on the train, bus or subway with their DS should eat this up, especially when you toss a little Sudoku in on top of it.