Reviews

Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain?

Who would have thought learning could ever be this much fun?

Okay, we know, we've got an uphill struggle here convincing you that a game involving memory recall, numbers and (shudder) maths is one of the most captivating titles currently available on handheld. Trouble is, for all its unabashed focus on cranial expansion, 'Prof. Kawashima's Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain?' is exactly that.

In a nutshell, Brain Training (as we'll call it from now on to save a sudden onslaught of RSI) is designed to be played for twenty minutes a day and tasks you with completing a number of tasks as accurately and quickly as possible. These range from memorising a list of thirty words and recalling them, simple arithmetic and reading aloud to observational exercises like spotting the amount of a certain type of number on screen at once and working your way through a maze consisting of numbers and letters in sequential order.

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In terms of the main game, you're expected to complete your Brain Age Check once a day. This sets you three random tasks and, based on performance, calculates the 'age' of your brain that day - the idea being that a twenty year old brain is brain at its optimum efficiency, anything much higher than that and you're a bit of a muppet. Once you've checked your brain age, you've also got the option to train your brain. Here, you're free to pick your tasks at random and you're encouraged to try and do three a day to keep your noggin at its peak performance levels.

Quite how effective Brain Training actually is in terms of getting those old head juices flowing is slightly debatable - we've been hovering around the '20' mark for a while now, which you could admittedly argue suggests the game's done its job (after a frightening first week in which we seemed destined to a life of having a '50' year old brain crammed into our youthful bonces). What we can tell you though, is that tuning in for a couple of minutes a day to see how on the ball you are is a tremendously satisfying, and addictive, process. It's fascinating whacking open the DS after a night of booze and seeing Brain Training do its own equivalent of reporting exactly how many brain cells you've destroyed in the process.

In fact, that's probably the game's greatest strength - presenting you with tangible goals to reach in terms of self-improvement and giving you enough incentive, through new unlockable games and features, to keep at it. Even better though is the way that one game cart can be shared between four regular players, much like Animal Crossing. Although all activities are solo events, players can scan through everyone else's results, furthering that competitive streak. In fact, one of our favourite group parts of Brain Training is its image recall task. Every once in a while, you're asked to draw three specific objects from memory. When another player picks up the game and does the same, it'll present them with your earlier efforts - generally bordering on Alzheimer-esque embarrassments if you play it on the undulating tube like we do.

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Of course, what really makes Brain Training stand out is just how well it's been tailored to fit the DS. With all activities making extensive use of extremely well-implemented handwriting recognition or (slightly less effective) voice recognition, it's a pleasure to use. One of the best examples of the title's glorious intuitiveness is the new (to the Western version, at least) Sudoku mode. Using various stylus taps and strokes, it's a doddle to work your way through the one hundred puzzles (from an interface perspective, rather than an intellectual one, obviously) - the left hand side of the screen (Brain Training insists you hold the DS on its side like a book) displays the complete puzzle, while the touch-screen is used to zoom into the square of your choice, shift around the grid, record notes on possible answers and so on.

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