Score: 8 / 10
So here we are. The brain training game that took Japan by storm, challenging the nation’s citizenry’s collective gray matter has made its way to North America, and it was certainly worth the wait. While it’s tempting to start pontificating how Brain Age will open the doors further still in embracing the wily and illusive casual gamer, that’s something best suited for an editorial. We’re here to talk about the good and the bad of this game, and what makes it a worthy purchase. What is so interesting about this game is that it makes exercising one’s brain fun, no mean feat in this day and age. The drills are quite varied, and they’re so simple in design that players will want to come back again and again, all the while sharpening their wits.
Once players start up the game for the first time, the jolly, disembodied head of Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, who will be one's guide, coach, and instructor over the course of the game, greets them. From there players have the option between a quick battery of tests, which are a good way to introduce friends and family to the world of brain training, starting one’s own profile for some intensive, regular training, or playing a few rounds of Sudoku, the numbers game that has been taking newspapers by storm over the last year or two.
More often than not, though, you’ll find yourself playing the intensive training mode requiring you to set up a profile. It is here that players will constantly be bombarded with various tests that can range from doing math questions as quickly as possible, reading aloud as quick as you can, counting exercises, memorization drills, and so forth. There’s also the infamous talking test, where players are presented
with various colors and words, and one has to say the color of the word, not the word itself. So, if the word reads “black”, but is written in blue letters, the correct answer is actually “blue”. At first, the selection of tests is limited, but slowly more are unlocked.
the tests are very well balanced, and can be done in a couple of
minutes. Over time,
players’ progress is charted so they can keep track of how they are
doing, and see what areas need work.
One thing that quickly becomes apparent about Brain Age, though,
is that it’s a lot like other hobbies that center around
self-improvement, like going to the gym. By that, I mean that players will only stick with it so long
as they’re motivated to do so. While
there is a strong sense of satisfaction from steadily improving at the
various drills in the game, the very nature of them won’t be for
everyone. There are people
who swear they’ll get in shape once the New Year rolls around, and
give up after a month, and there are those who never read a book again
after they have completed school. It’s
people with this mentality that had best stay away from something like
Brain Age. They may fiddle
with it for a few weeks, but after that it’ll likely become a
glorified dust collector.
Two issues that
Brain Age suffers from are that its voice and
handwriting recognition can be sketchy at times.
In terms of voice recognition, the game has a lot of trouble
understanding when someone says “blue”, and consequently has a
tendency to mark one’s answer as incorrect even though they actually
said the right answer. Handwriting
recognition is where the real trouble arises.
When trying to answer math questions as fast as you can, it
doesn’t help when the game misreads an answer, and you have to go and
correct it quickly, thus losing precious seconds.
Even more frustrating is that there is one memory drill where
players are given a list of words that they must remember, and then
rewrite within a given amount of time.
However, there are quite a few letters that Brain Age
consistently misreads, so players have to try repeatedly to rewrite the
word, all the while praying that the finicky handwriting recognition
decides to work finally. I’ve
actually reached the point where I just assume not bother playing those
particular drills whenever possible for the good of my sanity.
these two issues, though, Brain Age is still a very worthwhile title to
spend some time with. It’s
pretty amazing that one can actually see how much they are improving
over time if they play the game regularly.
You can’t save the universe, or a princess in Brain Age, but
you can try to make yourself a bit smarter with it, and how many other
games can make that same claim?
(May 22, 2006)
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