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Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day! Review

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Developer: Nintendo Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: April 16, 2006 Also On: None

When education is entertaining, it will be a cold day in hell. Learning algebra, memorizing vocabulary, and writing essays will probably never be fun. But using and training your brain? Could that be useful and entertaining enough to warrant the creation of a video game? Japanese neurologist Ryuta Kawashima, M.D. thinks so. That is why he engineered the budget-priced Nintendo DS brain toy, Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!

Brain Age is not really what I would consider a video game. It is a tool, a training exercise, and a piece of software that stimulates your brain and tests your responses. There are not really high scores, there is no story, and there are not even characters besides the face of Dr. Kawashima, who kindly tells you how to complete each exercise. Really, if you look at it realistically, Brain Age is not a game at all. It is a tool similar to an educational computer program. If that doesn’t excite you, I’m not surprised, but giving Brain Age a chance will reveal its very interesting elements.

The point of Brian Age is to provoke and make use of the prefrontal cortex in your brain. If you didn’t know (and I don’t expect most of you to know anything about neural science), the prefrontal cortex is what lets you use stored knowledge to make decisions in any situation. Quoting the game’s official site, it is the “control tower” of your brain. The site also says that your “practical intelligence” or ability to apply stored knowledge to your everyday reality, depends upon how well your prefrontal cortex functions. The prefrontal cortex is “the foundation of creativity, memory, communication, and self-control.” It has been proven, through Dr. Kawashima’s research of the brain’s activity and blood flow, that the exercises found in Brain Age can increase the ability to use the prefrontal cortex, thus sharpening your brain.

Whether this training is an engrossing experience or not depends on your willingness to do math problems or play color-recognition exercises. There are several different exercises, some of them being much more entertaining than others. I, personally, was a sucker for “Calculations 20X”, which is a set of 20 simple math problems. The goal of “Calculations” (which also comes in a “100X” flavor) is to complete these math problems as quickly as possible by writing the answer to each equation on the touch screen. You would be surprised how tricky the game can be, seeing 8X8 and then 8+8 in quick succession can be very confusing and will require you to stop and think for a second before answering. Other fun games include Head Count, where you count the amount of people entering and exiting a building, and Lowest to Highest, which is an interesting take on simple memory games.

The game I did not like so much was the Stroop Test. The Stroop Test is a common brain game where the names of colors (like black and yellow) are written in a font color different than what the word actually represents. For example, blue might be written in a red font, and there is a slight struggle when saying the color of the font rather than the actual word. The microphone does a terrible job picking up the pronunciation of different colors, and I personally had a really tough time with blue. This game is actually the only game that does a poor job with recognition of voice or stylus control. Every other game is spot-on.

The point of playing these games is to determine your Brain Age, or the level that your brain thinks at. A healthy Brain Age is 20, which means that your brain operates at a 20-year-old’s level, which is evidently the optimal level. Perhaps it is because 20-year-olds have not yet destroyed their brain with legal alcohol use, but that is a different story.

There are not really graphics or sound effects to mention here. The on-screen visuals are mostly numbers and words without much color, and the backgrounds are all gray or white. Each figure is pretty simple, like the little figures that represent people in Head Count. Technically, nothing looks bad, but Brain Age is probably the last game ever that will wow you in terms of production values.

Even when the exercises get old, 100 sudoku puzzles do not. Sudoku, for those of you unfamiliar with addictive number puzzles, is a game where nine columns and nine rows make 81 squares, and the goal of the game is to fill in a square with a number from 1-9 without repeating any single number in a column or row. There is only one solution to each puzzle, and some of the puzzles can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour to complete, depending on your skill and the amount of numbers granted to you when you begin the puzzle. Sudoku is difficult to do at first but pretty quickly you will be hooked, and this additional game alone makes Brain Age a fantastic package. Not to mention, a sudoku PSP game was just released and costs more than $20 WITHOUT all of the brain games!

Is Brain Age worth buying? Definitely! It is only $20, and I will vouch for Dr. Kawashima that Brain Age does make use of your brain. I had a headache after about an hour of gameplay the first day I got it, but that was mostly because I was replaying Calculations and trying to get a lightning-fast time. Doing 800 math problems is bound to do that to your head! Brain Age, if nothing else, is a gadget that further proves the DS’ originality and innovation. For that reason alone, it is worth checking out.

Graphics: 5
Sound: 5
Gameplay: 8.5
Creativity: 10
Replay Value/Game Length: 8.5
Final: 7.7
Written by Cliff Review Guide