[3 September 2007]
Day: 1; Brain Age: 62
I…am an old man, apparently. What is my problem? What is this rock-paper-scissors garbage? Where are my colors? “Math Recall”? Why are you crossing out my numbers? I need those numbers! The first Brain Age game said to me just yesterday that my brain age was 25. I should be coming up gangbusters in Brain Age 2, right?
Day: 2; Brain Age: 37
Well, OK, that’s more like it. Finding the high number on a screen full of numbers is easy; I can plow right through that one. And remembering where numbers are? The first Brain Age had a “number memory” type of game too, so I’m ready for that. Still, that stupid rock-paper-scissors business. It’s holding me back. I can feel it. This isn’t a matter of saying “blue” the right way anymore; this is a matter of trying to wrap my brain around something it’s not used to. I mean, normally, I want to win at rock-paper-scissors, not lose. Playing in reverse is throwing off my entire equilibrium. It’s not fair. Not fair at all.
Day: 3; Brain Age: 39
My brain-based exercise regimen has taught me that I am a master piano player. Or, at least, better than a novice one. It unlocked hard mode for me. That was nice of it, don’t you think?
My brain age, on the other hand, continues to suffer. Rock-paper-scissors (which I will have to do every day, apparently) continues to haunt me. And why couldn’t I remember single-digit numbers today?
Day: 4; Brain Age: 24
YES. I AM A BRAIN AGE GOD. HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW, KAWASHIMA?!
* * *
...and on it goes. For the record, by day 5, my brain age was back up to 42. These are the mood swings of Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes a Day, the latest “Touch Generations” release from Nintendo and Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, he of the omnipresent floating head that defines the style of the Brain Age games. In most ways, Brain Age 2 is utterly identical to Brain Age in terms of presentation, music, and (for the most part) difficulty. Where the second Brain Age evolves from the first is in the activities that we are allowed to do. This is a smart decision on Nintendo’s part. Nobody who enjoyed Brain Age in the first place wants the dynamic to change, as the dynamic of “a little bit of training, a test, and then Sudoku ‘til the sun goes down” was really what made the first game a tremendous hit amongst the casual game crowd. To change that general structure would have been a mistake.
Make some change! Make it fast!
So, boy, did they ever change the activities. Not a single activity has been retained from the first game, effectively doubling the veteran Brain Age player’s bank of different things to do to work that brain. As with the first game, some are more successful than others, but Nintendo wisely made the decision to ditch all games based on honesty (there is no “speed reading” or “count as fast as you can” game to be found). All of the games have measurable outcomes, which makes the graph readings that result from days of play actually look somewhat meaningful.
In the place of those, we have a few games that actually push the envelope a bit as far as the concentration necessary to succeed at them. The aforementioned rock-paper-scissors game, which has taken the place of Brain Age‘s color-naming Stroop Test as the first brain age evaluation activity, is a true brain bender, as a hand symbol (one of the common rock, paper, or scissors hand gestures) is shown, and the player is asked to either win or lose. It doesn’t sound hard, of course, but when you’re trying to do forty of these in rapid succession, synapses start to melt a little bit. “Piano Player” is a game where you actually try to play a melody along with a fairly rudimentary accompaniment. Those who have played piano previously in their lives will find “Piano Player” to be a cakewalk, though if you haven’t it’ll stretch your cells as well as anything else here, and the musical context is a welcome shift from the fairly dry presentation of the numeric and word-based tests. “Change Maker” is another interesting choice on the training side; sure, you’ve scoffed at the teenage cashier who couldn’t figure out how much change to give you on a $6.14 bill after you gave him a ten, but can you do it over and over again and get it right every time?
Play Brain Age 2, and maybe you’ll have a little more sympathy for that cashier.
Aside from the training itself, there is the Sudoku, which continues to be the other primary draw of the Brain Age series. Brain Age Sudoku increases the difficulty on a gentle gradient, slowly increasing the skill of the player as the difficulty ramps up. It hasn’t changed a bit, but its mere continued presence bumps up the value of the Brain Age package considerably. And Dr. Mario is in here, too, albeit in slightly neutered form. But still—Dr. Mario!
Good luck with this one. It’s a migraine waiting to happen.
It should also be noted that Brain Age 2 is being sold as part of a new Nintendo DS package, which includes a sleek little DS whose crimson-and-black design is exclusive to the package. It’s a pretty little thing that gives the impression that it’s a mini makeup case. The package also comes with a spiffy little DS protective case, with three tight pockets for games and a design to match the custom DS. It’s actually a nicer case than most of the cases sold separately on the market, as the design makes for easy access to the stylus, not to mention that it’s just as easy to play with the DS in the case when the unti is on its side (“book style”) as it is in the traditional upper/lower screen configuration. I imagine this was an intentional design step on the part of Nintendo, given that the Brain Age series is perhaps the most famous of the DS-on-its-side configuration games.
In all, there’s very little to be critical of in a game that has, honestly, changed so little. The handwriting recognition is still a little quirky, granted, and some have reported problems with the voice recognition (the word “scissors” seems to be a particular sticking point). Still, Brain Age was a hit, Brain Age 2 is going to be a hit. Those weaned on Halo and currently transfixed by BioShock will wonder what the fuss is about. Nearly everyone else will love it, content in the fact that their brain is getting its little daily workout.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/brain-age-2/