Brain Age Review

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Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo

Platform: DS
Reviewed on DS

Brain Age proclaims: "Exercise is the key to good health, both for body and mind – and now there's finally a way to make mental exercise simple and fun. Inspired by the work of prominent Japanese neuroscientist Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, this software features activities designed to help stimulate your brain and give it the workout it needs. Using it for just a few minutes each day can make your brain feel fresh and sharp!"

Kyle Ackerman

What's crawling on my brain? Brain Age is one of the first games in the "Touch Generations" series of games – an effort by Nintendo to create games and activities to appeal to all ages and all people, particularly those who have never gamed before. Brain Age in particular seems designed to grab grandparent gamers – those most sensitive to a perception of deteriorating mental acuity. Designed with the aid and blessing of Dr. Ryuta Kawashima (and graced with his floating, talking head), Brain Age offers activities that are correlated with improved blood flow in the prefrontal cortex as determined by magnetic resonance imaging and near-infrared spectroscopy.

Sounds fancy. I won't argue the validity of the science behind Brain Age (although it should be noted the medical community is far from agreement on these matters), but there's no question that many of the mental exercises are based on basic neurological tests and mathematical exercises. Will these little tests keep your brain young? That's arguable. Will they make you feel sharp, faster at basic math and provide a little entertainment along the way? Definitely.

Knocking Neurons

Think of it as an abstract platformer.Brain Age is not designed for extended play sessions. The goal is a brief mental workout, with each task completed as quickly as possible and without error. It's meant to be picked up for a few minutes each day, when you can read aloud as quickly as possible, perform rapid addition and subtraction, or keep track of the number of guests entering and leaving a house (many feel free to enter via the chimney, Santa Claus-like).

Never mind getting mentally younger – do these activities and you'll get faster at these particular tasks. Still, these are the sort of basic skills many adults let lapse, and a review of basic math and observational skills is useful for everyone. Regular Brain Age players will find it less stressful to calculate a waiter's tip or fill in an expense report than before starting Brain Age's exercise regime. And just like any exercise program, Brain Age tracks your performance with charts and gives you feedback based on your performance.

Write your numbers clearly.Occasionally, you'll want to revisit the basic "Brain Age" test. This is a series of more involved activities that turn your accuracy and response time into a mental age that might be very young or quite old. While this is expressed as an actual "age" based on the results of 120 test subjects, it's better to think of this as a score, like a golf score (or any other in which a high number means you performed poorly). Who wants to be told they're mentally 66? If you're as young as you feel, then are you as old as your brain? The Medicare system had better just throw in the towel and declare bankruptcy right now, if that's the case. But regular play can bring your "age" score down.

There are some quibbles to be had with Brain Age. While most people can immediately learn to use the stylus to enter answers, some of the tests require verbal feedback. The speech recognition is imperfect, so it may take some time to learn how to speak your answers so that Brain Age "gets it." Fortunately, most verbal tests can be avoided if you desire (or are in a public place and don't want to look foolish shouting numbers or colors at your DS).

Eventually, It's Time for Recess

Over time, more Brain Age puzzles are unlocked, but the charm of Brain Age begins to vanish quickly after a month of regular use. You'll quickly settle into top form and hit one of those plateaus typical of physical exercise. After that you may find Brain Age falls into disuse.

Read aloud. But not on the subway.Brain Age is best when played regularly with other friends or family. Not only can you compare scores, the game offers entertaining shared activities. For example, you might all be asked to draw pictures and then get to see each others' pictures. Or you might be asked to note down your last meal and then asked to recall it days later. Brain Age certainly works best when you can just leave it in the DS in a public place so that everyone can pick it up and "exercise" for a few minutes.

The saving grace of Brain Age is that it not only offers a pool of great mental exercises, it also comes with Sudoku. The Sudoku is excuse enough for many folks to pick up a copy of Brain Age, as there are lots of puzzles of varying difficulty levels, and all are solidly implemented. You can ask the game to notify you if you fill in a square of the number puzzle incorrectly, and you can zoom in on the touch screen to enter nine tiny reminder numbers, the same way you might take notes on a paper Sudoku puzzle.

Unless you are truly committed, Brain Age probably isn't going to last for a lifetime of exercises. However, between the entertaining mental exercises that can be performed with family or friends and the robust Sudoku selection, this is an easy DS card to recommend, especially for those who aren't typical gamers.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on June 18, 2006 12:34 PM.

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