- Reviewed on: Nintendo DS
- The Good: The fun and challenging tests drive you to play every day and improve your brain age. Includes an excellent Sudoku section.
- The Bad: Idiosyncratic text and speech recognition. The Sudoku section could be short lived for experts.
- The Verdict: An enjoyable piece of software for both gamers and non-gamers alike, particularly for those already interested in Sudoku, or worried about their cognitive skills.
"Blue", I say, staring intensely at the top screen of my Nintendo DS, though I'm holding the system sideways, like a book. The screen displays the word "Yellow" in blue text.
This is the Stroop test, in which you must speak the colour of the word you see, not the word itself. It's the first activity Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day! uses to determine your "Brain Age," the unique signifier of how effective your brain is, from an optimal 20 year old brain to a brain in its 80s.
"Try Again" flashes up on my screen.
"The results of this test are most accurate for native English speakers" the disembodied head of the software's creator, neuroscientist Dr Ryuta Kawashima, helpfully informed me before I begun the test. "Blue" I therefore repeat, this time performing my best impression of the Queen's English.
"Try Again" flashes up again, as I begin to worry about my how many of my brain cells are dissolving away as the time was ticks by.
"Burue?"I try; "Balueh?" doesn't work either. "Baloo?" I cry, with a heavy upwards inflection, almost reaching a squeak. The next word and colour combination finally appears on screen, and I continue the test, only bothered by a few more troublesome demands that I pronounce "Blue," and before I know it, my brain age has been revealed to me.
Dismally, I have the brain of an octogenarian.
A phenomenon in its native Japan where it has sold more than 6 million copies in three different iterations, Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day! Is the series' first appearance on North American shores, with the new addition of 100 Sudoku puzzles to the package. The majority of the title takes the form of a series of tests intended to be performed daily to improve the general health of the player's brain. Perform one a day and receive a stamp on your calendar, perform three a day and get a bigger stamp. It's as simple as that, with the player also allowed to check their brain age once a day.
Though there are a mere nine tests to take, they are unlocked over time to stop power-gamers becoming tired of the title within a day. This software works best if used as intended; a few tests taken each day, and a brain age check, for those players who wish to reach that magical brain age of 20 years old. Embarrassingly, this reviewer remains stuck in his early thirties.
The tests are arranged in a near even split between arithmetic and language challenges, from extremely simple tasks such as reading aloud, to more complex task such as "Head Count", which requires you input the number of people that remain in a house after a fast sequence of addition and subtraction.
The tests initially seem dull and some seem particularly unchallenging, but the title has surprisingly harsh demands on accuracy and speed that can bring out a competitive streak, particularly if more than one person has a save on the same game card. There is space for up to four players on each card, and the game includes a quick play mode for friends and relatives and a DS download play option.
The new Sudoku section is a surprisingly excellent addition. As the title can show you your mistakes as you make them (though with a harsh time penalty) it works as great introduction to the game. Seasoned Sudoku hands, however, are likely to work their way through the 100 Sudoku puzzles quickly.
Brain Age is not without its flaws. Using voice and stylus input would be revolutionary with perfect understanding, but here the game falls short. The game consistently fails to recognize the word '"Blue" (critical to the Stroop test) unless it is pronounced in an idiosyncratic fashion, and the stylus-based text input must be written in simple lower case to be understood well by the system. As high brain age rankings require both time and accuracy this is an unfortunate flaw, though one the player can become accustomed to it over time.
The biggest question is, of course, does Brain Age actually manage to exercise your brain? It's no surprise to a gamer that the more you play a level in a game the better you get at it, so doesn't the same rule apply to the tests used in Brain Age? Well, while in some cases it does seem to be a matter of rote learning, my times in the calculation tests steadily decreasing through practice, other tests continually vary enough that I always feel that I'm giving my brain a real work out.
Brain Age is not only a fun and interesting title that works well as a daily burst of brain training; it could work as a brilliant "gateway" game for any older relatives that are worried about their cognitive abilities. It costs little more than a book of Sudoku puzzles, and you could end up playing it for a lifetime, feeling all the better for it.