July 6, 2006

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Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day (DS)
Nintendo , 2006

Nintendo fires a shot across the bow of anti-video game scaremongers who Chicken Little about Washington with their “Grand Theft Auto’s Hot Coffee mod will destroy us all! Destroy us all! Destroy us all!” by way of Brain Age, the game that makes you smarter and fights Alzheimer’s. Take that, Hillary.

I love the quirky minds of the Japanese game designers, who, much as in the field of, say, reliable automotive engineering, are light years ahead of America. The most we can get a brain to do is splatter gorily against a digital wall. These guys, well they’ve figured out a way to make it smarter, faster, younger and all around Six Million Dollar Man-ier.

In Brain Age the Max Headroom-esque Dr. Kawashima (real-world doctor behind the study that found that video game exercise increased blood and oxygen flow to the brain thereby increasing mental acuity) guides players though the brain-training exercises. A host of math and word games work to stretch your cognition and hone your problem-solving, memory and deductive processes. By completing these tasks for a few minutes each day you get the mental workout that your media-saturated diet might be otherwise lacking.

Brain Age offers a bit of multiplayer as competitors can go head to head (to head and so on) in the various challenges to see whose brain is the most optimally aged. And the addition of Sudoku is undeniably an attractive selling point for this budget-priced masterpiece. This frenzied numerical phenomenon finds a comfortable home in the ranks of the many puzzles and tests Brain Age hosts. But it is a bit annoying that I need to read the instructions each time I fire it up for a little 9x9 ordinal sorting (if you know what I mean). If the canny Dr. K had only figured a way to shoehorn a bit of the ol’ Da Vinci Code in we’d begin to see a marked un-slackening of the jaws of the average consumer.

There are two flaws, both frustratingly encountered unfortunately when one needs them to work smoothly. The DS, while it is to be lauded for its inclusion of a microphone, isn’t exactly aces when it comes to voice recognition. This bites particularly hard during the tests that require you to read a passage out loud. Secondly the handwriting recognition can also be a bit touchy, sometimes confusing particularly ugly 6’s for 8’s and so on. But, these are minor foibles in the larger picture and the few seconds you may lose on this or that test aren’t all too crucial.

As it stands those who snap up Brain Age have displayed their smarts with their wallet, and soon our elite super brains shall flee this woebegone planet of feeble-minds and establish an intellectual utopia, sponsored by Nintendo of course. A

— Glenn Given.