Hey baby, wanna see my frontal lobe?
Nintendo has been pitching its brain games as "non-traditional" games. This statement may be true of the original Brain Age, but it doesn’t hold up quite as well for Big Brain Academy. The next in the brain games line plays much more like a logic problem version of Nintendo’s own WarioWare games than it does like its predecessor.
The "Big Brain Academy" is a fictional university run by Dr. Lobe, who will test you to measure the weight of your brain. This test consists of a series of rapid-fire mini-games, each designed to test your brain in one of five different categories: Think, Memorize, Analyze, Compute, and Identify.
Think games involve figuring things out logically, such as which object on a set of scales is heavier, where an animal following a path will end up, and where to place a bone so that a dog following a set of movement instructions will reach it.
Memorize games, as their name suggests, are all about memorizing things and include replaying sounds in the order they were played to you (like the electronic game, Simon), quickly memorizing a series of numbers and spitting them back out, and memorizing a series of images and filling in the blanks when some of them disappear.
Analyze games are based on reasoning. One is a connect-the-dots style game that asks you to draw a line between a specific set of points. Another is a simple task of counting the number of cubes on the screen, though some are hidden underneath and behind others. The third shows a list of animals on the top screen and a grid of animals on the lower, and it asks you to draw a line that connects the animals in the same order they they appear above.
Compute games are all math-based and involve counting the value of coins, the number of items, or solving math equations that are written out in English.
Finally, the Identify games are visual and include picking out objects when all you can see is their silhouette, filling in a large image with smaller shapes, and picking out matching images.
During the test portion of Big Brian Academy, you will play one mini-game from each of the five categories. Which game you play, and in what order you play them, is selected randomly, so the test is slightly different every time you go through it. This randomness, in addition to keeping the game fresh, keeps you on your toes, as there’s no way to know what’s coming up next.
The test portion of Big Brain Academy is the meat of the game, and offers a fair amount of replay value. It also has a certain addicting factor to it. I found myself going through the test multiple times in a row, just trying to top my high score. After completing the test, Dr. Lobe breaks down your performance. Your overall score is added up to find your brain’s weight, and a five-point graph shows which categories are your strongest and weakest, reminding you to practice your problem areas before going through the test next time. The game also compares your brain’s weight to various professions and celebrities such as "museum curator," "politician," and "Sherlock Holmes."
A practice mode is available to fine-tune your skills in each individual mini-game. Some of the games seem tougher than others, but which specific games are most difficult will almost certainly be different for everybody. Doing well enough in practice mode will earn medals from Dr. Lobe, so you can show off your accomplishments. Going through this mode before taking the test will keep you sharp and get you ready for the test, often resulting in higher scores. Of course, it’s also a good way to play your favorite games.
One of the biggest parts of Big Brain Academy is its multiplayer versus mode. In this mode, up to sixteen players can compete on one cartridge to determine who has the largest brain. The battle starts with player one picking a category and mini-game and then setting the difficulty and win conditions. Once the round is over, scores are calculated, and the player with the lowest score for the round picks the next category and game. The match is over when a player hits a total brain weight of 300 grams. If all the players are accustomed to the various mini-games, then this mode is typically a very close race and lots of fun. Playing with others who have never played Big Brain Academy will always end with the experienced players way ahead of everybody else. This is a minor problem, but works itself out pretty quickly as all of the games only take one play through to learn. However, it would be nice if there was some sort of handicap system to keep all the players on the same level. The rapid-fire nature of Big Brain Academy makes it a great choice for multiplayer, and it’s much better than the rather mundane math marathon in Brain Age.
Nintendo has said that games like this, and others in their "Touch Generations" line, are designed for people of all ages. I wanted to put this claim to the test, so I lent Big Brain Academy to my mother for her to play on a drive to the airport. She’s a big fan of logic problems and has been doing them for decades, so I expected her to enjoy Big Brain Academy. After going through the test a few times, she started having a lot of fun and mentioned quite a few times that she was going to play it "just one more time." I would call it a glowing recommendation from her, and she’s even tempted to get her own DS and a copy of the game.
Big Brain Academy is much more of a "game" than its predecessor. Playing it feels more like fun and less like an exercise. There’s a genuine drive to achieve higher scores, if only to find out that you might be as smart as Albert Einstein. The variety of mini-games and random nature in which they are presented helps keep the game fresh, and even if you get tired of taking the test, the multiplayer versus mode is a bunch of fun, provided you have people to play it with. Overall, it’s a great game for anybody who’s a fan of puzzle games or logic problems.