Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training
Proudly waving the non-game flag, Ryuta Kawashima lets you train your brain on Nintendo DS - will your brain do backflips or waste away?
Professor Ryuta Kawashima's disembodied head laughs a lot in the new DS game that bears his name. He says all sorts of encouraging things to keep you going and you'll often see him having a good chuckle. Which makes it all the more painful when he's just told you that your brain is 30 years older than it actually is.
I'm probably not in Nintendo's target audience for Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training: How Old is Your Brain?. I've been playing video games for over 20 years, a time during which I've had to wrap my brain and hands around all manner of contorted controllers and leaps of ill logic. I follow the industry closely. And I'm a young(ish) man. But still I had a lot of fun getting my brain to work up a sweat.
As the bellwether for Nintendo's Touch! Generations brand, Brain Training was the first title to proudly wear the non-game sticker. You'll not play it nearly as much as you'll plug away at it out of a sort of compulsion driven by guilt. I mean, do you really want to be the owner of a brain that works like one 30 years older?
The training is approached in much the same way as you would train a dog. You're initially presented with a small set of activities you can do every day but if you show discipline and keep coming back, you'll be rewarded with more stuff to do. As a numbers freak, I was naturally drawn to the calculation exercises, where you do simple mathematics of the kind your teachers tried to carve into your brain before you reached your teens. But there is a range of others to choose from.
A game such as this is made or broken by how well it senses what you mean. Most of the touch-screen stuff works well, though the system does have a tendency to misread what you've written from time to time, especially when it looks like you've changed your mind halfway through writing a number or a letter. This is frustrating when you're trying to prove that you don't have an addled brain. Some of the training exercises and the brain age tests ask you to speak into the DS's microphone and again here it doesn't work perfectly all the time. It's not common, though, and certainly not enough to put you off the experience.
As I mentioned above, I'm a bit of a numbers freak, so I was glad to hear that Nintendo had decided to add a version of Sudoku to the game. There are dozens of puzzles to choose from and the interface is intuitive and fast, meaning you can get going quickly, and the difficult is just right. There are insultingly simple ones in the beginning but things ramp up fast enough to keep ardent players busy for a while. It's a pity that the Sudoku craze has down died because this alone could have been a major selling point for the game.
The goal of Brain Training is for you to train your brain, so coming back regularly is top on the list of requirements. The game lets you track your progress in the different exercises and you can chart your brain age as it (hopefully) plunges from its depressing highs to that goal of 20-years-young. The charts give you a sense of accomplishment, though I can't say that I feel smarter yet. I do, however, now have a lot of confidence that should someone stop me in the street and ask me to do 20 random calculations, I'll see her off with a smile.