Brain Challenge Review

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Publisher: Gameloft
Developer: Gameloft

Platforms: Xbox 360, Wii, Mobile and iPod
Reviewed on Xbox 360

Perform daily mental exercises to sharpen your wits and flex your logical functions with Gameloft's latest entrant into the brain exercise genre of puzzle games.

Kyle Ackerman

When Nintendo launched its game Brain Age for the DS, it launched a new genre of game. Now, similar games in which players perform a series of exercises to hone mental acuity are everywhere. Two of the best such games released for mobile phones were Gameloft's Brain Challenge and Brain Challenge Vol. 2: Stress Management. These titles have been polished and upgraded to HD for Xbox 360 gamers as part of Xbox Live Arcade.

Brain Challenge seems to move further away than other games from trying to tie the exercises to research showing that solving puzzles quickly increases blood flow in parts of the brain, but still presents an array of challenging puzzles. You are still offered your choice of a male or female "trainer" in a lab coat who lends a feeling of "authority" to the simple puzzles and games offered in Brain Challenge by announcing your results and peppering you with basic biology questions.

Brain Challenge has a better assortment of puzzles than most such games, with 20 games in the categories of memory, logic, visual, math and focus, each with three levels of difficulty and nearly all offering real, challenging, mental exercises. Then there are another five "stress" exercises and three "creative games" (like a freeform doodle pad). All of these exercises can be variously combined in the "daily test" that can either be a brain test or a stress test, or in multiplayer competition.

The individual exercises let you do things like identify the overall number indicated by a sequence of flashing digits, match faces, remember a path that quickly flashes by, identify what a shape looks like when reflected or just do basic math. All are done under time pressure, something that is supposed to improve brain activity. The daily test administers one exercise from each category, and comes up with a "brain usage percentage." Just like Brain Age's mental age, it's better to think of this as a score from 1% to 100% than something real. Even in the game's opening screens, it asks the question, "It's said that people only use about 10% of their brain... what about you?" It may be said by someone, but not by neurologists, so take the science with a grain of salt and focus on the mental gymnastics.

There are also "stress tests." Unlike the brain training, I found these irritating, despite scoring well. One of the stress tests has you solving two puzzles, one on each side of the screen and answering each with different sides of the controller. I found that interesting, but others required me to, say, continue rotating one stick while answering questions with the other. The controller just isn't made for doing that kind of exercise comfortably. I would have preferred a similar exercise with an option to use two controllers. Then there's the opportunity to take the same tests but with strange visual effects overlaying the exercise. The kid test (a simplified version of the test, designed for younger gamers) and the creative exercises don't quite fit in with the rest of the exercises, but do make an even broader experience available (once unlocked).

The big issue with Brain Challenge is that few of the games are initially unlocked. In fact, of the nearly 30 games, only five are available from the outset. You will encounter other games when you do your daily test, but it will be a while before you unlock those games for access in the training room. Since different exercises are more or less fun, if you aren't dead set on becoming a mental athlete, you will have to bull through the early games to get to the later ones. Personally, the games I found more entertaining had to be patiently unlocked through play. And more like Brain Age than other titles, some of these exercises take many days of play before they become available, and seem to be linked more to time than performance.

The multiplayer is better executed than most, but suffered from some execution problems. The brilliance of the multiplayer experience in Brain Challenge is that players take turns quickly answering questions from the various exercises. But there is a strategic layer that overlays the straightforward questions. Players are dealt a certain number of cards that let those players pick which categories to use, or force other players to take specific categories, or the cards may change the parameters under which the questions are taken. This means the fastest player doesn't always win, and this keeps things balanced and interesting. Unfortunately, there seem to be matchmaking problems. I had to connect to around twenty games that would then give me an error message, showing the game to be full, before connecting to (or creating) a game that could actually be played with others.

As always, with such games, the interface is as much an obstacle as the puzzles, themselves. Even if the exercise is easy, it may take a few tries to get used to the controls enough to answer the questions correctly. And some exercises, like the basic math, seem made for a mobile phone's number pad, rather than a joystick. They are still playable, but require an entirely different set of mental skills beyond logic and math.

For 800 points ($10), Brain Challenge gives you a vast array of mental puzzles, and as a single-player training exercise is great for a daily brain-building fix. The multiplayer is great, in principle, but it can be difficult to connect to other players online. Especially for those who live and die by the Xbox 360, Brain Challenge offers gamers an opportunity to introduce brainy activities into their daily gaming routine.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on March 25, 2008 10:06 AM.

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