Reviews

Brain Age 2

Mike Schiller

Why are you crossing out my numbers? I need those numbers!


Publisher: Nintendo
Genres: Puzzle
Subtitle: More Training in Minutes a Day
Price: $19.99
Multimedia: Brain Age 2
Platforms: Nintendo DS
Number of players: 1-6
ESRB rating: Everyone
Developer: Nintendo
US release date: 2007-08-20
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Developer website

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?

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.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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