Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 04/17/06 | Genre: Simulation
Nintendo's series of productivity/educational software for the DS has really taken off in Japan; it was only a matter of time before NOA would bring some of those titles stateside. Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day is the first entry to come to the US. The concept behind Brain Age is simple. If you don't use your brain enough, atrophy occurs and mental skills decrease. Brain Age helps you exercise your brain with activities you might not normally have a chance to do in your day-to-day experiences.
At first, I thought that the fairly simple tasks presented in Brain Age would be neither fun nor mentally stimulating. After spending several days with the title, I have to disagree with my initial assumptions. Nintendo developed the game with the help of Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, a Japanese neuroscientist. The Brain Age presents research explaining that the brain benefits from doing even simple tasks rapidly. The activities in Brain Age work your brain in ways that our hectic, computer assisted lives don't usually provide enough opportunities for. By playing Brain Age for perhaps just ten minutes a day, you will hopefully keep your brain in greater shape.
Brain Age isn't a video game in the normal sense, and you shouldn't get this game if you're only looking to have fun. It can be rewarding to challenge yourself to improve your scores at the various activities, but really, Brain Age is more like a piece exercise equipment than a game. You should play it for just a few minutes daily and you actually will notice an improvement.
There are about a dozen different activities in Brain Age, and you have to play on twenty separate days before you can unlock them all. It will take a little longer to unlock the Hard modes for certain activities. All of them are fairly simple. They test basic arithmetic, memory, and reading skills among other things. What makes the activities challenging is the pressure to complete them as fast as possible. According to Dr. Kawashima's research, this actually causes quite a bit of activity in your brain.
The game uses both handwriting and speech recognition software, allowing quick and natural input. The handwriting recognition in particular is well done. It accurately recognizes a variety of styles of writing, and if it doesn't work to well for you, then it will encourage you to write a little neater. The only hitch is that the game seems to have trouble recognizing the word "blue" when spoken by most players that I've observed or talked with. You'll have to learn to say "blue" a specific way in order to get the game to consistently recognize it. It can be pretty irritating, and is really the only blemish on an otherwise perfect control scheme. Any other type of control simply requires tapping of the touch screen with a stylus. So Brain Age is really easy to play, especially for those who aren't used to playing video games. As you can tell by the screenshots, you hold the DS sideways, as if it was a book. The display can be flipped for left-handed players.
You can store up to four different player profiles on one game card, and each activity tracks individual and overall high scores. The activities are used to exercise your brain. A special activity, the Brain Age Check, administers a series of tests to calculate your Brain Age. The idea is that as you get older, your mental abilities deteriorate if you don't use them. So the lower your Brain Age, the better. The best score you can get is a Brain Age of 20. A higher age like 40 or 50 indicates that your brain is "tired" according to the game. If you do the training activities daily, you should definitely notice your Brain Age lowering with each test. The game presents graphs for you to check your progress and compare it to the other players.
Over 100 Sudoku puzzles ranging in difficulty are included in Brain Age. It's more of a bonus feature as it isn't really part of the other brain training activities. Thanks to the handwriting recognition, the interface is really nice. It certainly beats the heck out of playing Sudoku on the computer. This feature alone might make Brain Age worth a purchase for some. If you like Sudoku, you'll want to look out for Nintendo's Sudoku Gridmaster, releasing in June for the Nintendo DS.
If any of this sounds interesting to you, you should give Brain Age a try. It's not really a game, so it's not exactly supposed to be "fun" in the same sense that something like Mario Kart. However, it is rewarding to challenge yourself and improve your Brain Age, and if the research is to be believed, playing Brain Age regularly will actually keep your brain in shape and improve your life. If you try to play the game for one or two hours in a sitting, you'll probably get bore and that isn't the purpose of this software. You should be playing it for 10-30 minutes a day, perhaps even less once you've unlocked everything. Brain Age isn't actually interesting as a puzzle game, as the activities aren't designed that way. This isn't like a brain teaser-type of package. As long as you understand what Brain Age is, you shouldn't be disappointed. It's easy and enjoyable to use. What's also important is that Nintendo's offering it at the right price: $19.99.
The success of Brain Age could encourage Nintendo to bring over more of its brain training titles to the US. It will be interesting to see how it goes, as you can tell by the website and ads you may have seen on TV or in news magazines, Nintendo is targeting Brain Age mainly at adults who probably don't play video games. This strategy has been very successful in Japan. I wonder if we can expect the same in the US. With another brain training game already releasing in June, Nintendo's betting on it.