Years of cheap knock-offs and overdone concepts have made gamers an especially skeptical lot. Who could be blamed for approaching Brain Challenge with a bit of cynicism over its obvious, ahem, inspiration from Nintendo's uber-successful Brain Age? Indeed, when the game talks about "training your brain" within seconds of turning it on, most gamers will be rolling their eyes. But those who are able to get past their rip-off gag reflex will discover a shockingly fun experience with Brain Challenge.
Progress in Brain Challenge is measured by the percentage of your brain that the game estimates you are using. This number begins at 10% - the oft-quoted average brain usage - and grows as you complete minigame tests. The challenges come in five flavors: Logic, Math, Memory, Visual, and Focus. Each category has five different games that cycle in Daily Test mode or can be played individually for training.
As you slowly raise your brain percentage, a trainer - your choice of male or female - doles out advice and the occasional bit of trivia. Two minor complaints weigh down an otherwise enjoyable experience. First, some games are obviously much harder than others; we're looking at you, Reflection. Second, like Nintendo's Brain Age, which leads this genre, Brain Challenge often has trouble recognizing certain numbers in math or counting games. 8s are constantly mistaken for 6s.
These minor quibbles never prevent the game from being fun, though. The difficulty ramps up in a truly smart way, so that even as the challenges become more and more ridiculous, players should always feel like they're equipped with the noggin to handle it. Expect to be shocked at the speed with which you can count matches, connect dots, or catch falling fruit after you've practiced a few times.
Even once you unlock all forty main brain training games, there are stress training games that mix more action-oriented events with the original minigames. An online versus mode is present but is likely to go largely unused in this type of game. Even less useful are the "Bonus" non-challenge games, including Paint, Ball and Piano. In these modes you just play around without any goal, which largely amounts to wasted space on the DS cartridge since none of them are very fun.
While they weren't exactly subtle about where they got the idea, publisher Ubisoft and developer Gameloft should be commended for making Brain Challenge a very solid gaming experience regardless. We're still not so sure it provides any real self-improvement, but damned if we didn't feel satisfied the first time we got over 50% of our brain working.
Jan 25, 2008