Big Brain Academy (Nintendo DS) - Review by Andrew
If the current trend in console games is to be believed we all apparently don't use our brains as much as we did years ago. Practical Intelligence Quotient, Brain Age, Sudoku and now, Nintendo's latest offering, Big Brain Academy. What these intend to provide is a way of not only giving those areas of the brain that are rarely used a workout about also a way to actually calculate the findings. Mensa have done it for years with eager members of the public sending in their completed forms in order to get their IQ rating. One thing I've never understood about this is the fact that payment is required. I'm not entirely sure of the fee at present but it does mean you are paying someone in order for him or her to tell you how clever you are. Who's the intelligent individual there I wonder? I'll let you work it out but while you will have to purchase Big Brain Academy at least you can let others in on the test and (in theory at least) it should be a little more fun.
After you've input your name in to Big Brain Academy you'll be taken through a few minor instructions and then you're off. The tests themselves are split into five very different categories: think, memorize, analyze, compute and identify and while you'll always have to complete all five, the actual tasks are chosen at random by your DS. The 'think' category is filled with logic themed tasks such as deciding which is the heaviest object on the screen or deciding where a dog will retrieve a bone after following a succession of arrows. 'Memorize' is a case of repeating what you've just seen (or heard) on screen whilst your skills in reasoning are challenged in the 'Analyze' section. 'Compute' is counting with a twist and 'identify' is more or less self-explanatory. Each section lasts 60 seconds and gets progressively harder as the clock ticks down with any errors you make also adding to, or detracting from your overall score. Once it's all over you'll be given your score and this is calculated according to how well you've done on each section. This is then transferred into weight for each task and then converted in to a friendly score such as B- or C+ or even, what we started off with, D-. Unlike Brain Age, which only allows you to attempt to better your score once a day, this can be played over and over again and, because of the variety available, it will be some time before you master or tire of the tasks. There's even the ability to 'send' a demo to other DS users although disappointingly the multiplayer option requires each player to have a copy of the game.
It's all touch-screen here folks.
If you're use to your intelligence being graded in a scientific environment then the cartoon style visuals here are likely to throw you a little off balance. It's not all like this though and the visuals are perfectly suited for tasks such as matching symbols or counting the number of cubes on the screen. Repeating sounds or deciding which is the heaviest item have a far more cartoon-like feel to them. Think of the UIP shorts of the 1950's and you'll know what I mean. You'd imagine that this theme would be carried throughout the game although your host, Dr. Lobe, actually looks like a potato and not even one of those that people send in to the National Enquirer claiming it looks like Elvis and Jesus, just a potato. Overall a real mixed bag here which is likely to divide more mature gamers but no doubt please gamers who have fully adopted 'text speak' as the way to write letters.
It's actually difficult to place the soundtrack into a category and I've really never heard a composition like it in the past. I'm not even sure who the audience would be if it were a commercial release as it's so odd but at the same completely forgettable, I had to replay the game to remind myself of what it sounded like. Fortunately, it doesn't actually play through your tasks and, lets face it, if the whole thing managed to perplex you as much as it did to me, you can just turn the sound down.
This is one of the many first party titles, which only really work with the touch screen functionality. Unlike Brain Age it sticks to the stylus so there's no need to start shouting at your DS because it doesn't recognize the way you pronounce different colors.
Given that this has been released as a budget title there's more than enough here to keep the average gamer satisfied for some time and you may even find that family members and friends (who've previously stated that 'games are for kids') may want to have a go too. While it's all down to personal preference I actually prefer this to the earlier released Brain Age mostly due to its focus on fun as opposed to a daily workout. There's also a lot more variety in the tasks. This does come with a word of caution though as the pairing of cartoon visuals and brain expanding tasks in the same package will convince not everyone. This certainly won't be the last of these types of 'games' and it's probably something that all DS owners should have in their collection and it will certainly tempt some people into gaming who've never considered it a valid, or even wasted, pastime previously.
Pro: Engaging Challenges and Hours of Gameplay.
Con: Cartoon Visuals Don't Really Suit the Game, Only Four Save Slots, Bizarre Soundtrack.
Final score: 8