Somehow Dr. Lobe has returned.
Back in the days of Nintendo DS and Wii, Nintendo’s brain training games were a huge success. While the Brain Age games’ achievements were greater, the two Big Brain Academy games that hit the systems were quirky and fun, aiming more for lighthearted brain wrinkling than more directed training. After more than a decade of inactivity, the sizable smarts school is back on Nintendo Switch with Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain. The time away hasn’t changed all that much about how the game is played, but enjoyable local multiplayer and smart use of passive online modes makes this an enjoyable if fleeting game.
20 different brain-teasing games are the focus, split into five different categories: Identify, Memorize, Analyze, Compute, and Visualize. The easiest way to engage with these games is in Practice mode, which challenges you to try to get high scores by replaying each game. By playing this way, the lack of offline longevity for a solo player is on full display. The variety is nice, but the depth isn’t quite there. It’s just repetition in the name of earning coins to unlock meager cosmetics.
Brain vs. Brain excels in the versus elements. Local multiplayer can be a gas, in either two-player tabletop play or up to four-player TV battles. Everything’s frenetic and fun while still remaining challenging. Flexible difficulties for every player also makes it more friendly for children and parents. A young kid can hang around the Sprout difficulty level while their (hopefully) smarter parent can challenge themselves to Expert difficulty. Between every game, those levels can be adjusted so you strive for parity. I found the tabletop head-to-head mode the most fun, largely because the touch screen controls are the best way to play. Playing on the TV is fine, though, especially since the playing field is level because everyone has to use buttons.
Online rankings are also present, so you can compare your Practice high scores with friends, but the strongest online element is Ghost Clash, where you take on the pre-recorded ghost data of online players. Pre-release, this mode wasn’t completely stocked, but even with a limited pool of players (including some that are clearly computer-generated), these ghost matches were enjoyable. Some of it can be a cakewalk early on, but once you start contending with fiercer ghosts, this quickly becomes the more engaging and replayable way to interact with Big Brain Academy by yourself.
While the increasing difficulty of the games is welcome, Big Brain Academy does not have a lot of meat on its bones. Spending just an hour or two will make you intimately familiar with all the included games. The joy is found in the multiplayer, be it with those in the same room as you or those you’re competing with asynchronously online. As you play any aspect of this game, you unlock more goofy costumes for your academy student avatar as well as sayings and catchphrases that range from smug to asinine.
On one hand, I wish Big Brain Academy spent the past decade focusing on all of its game design lobes, but on the other, the focused and relatively meager assortment are enjoyable in the proper context. I won’t find the nigh-endless Sudoku comfort of Brain Age games or the nuanced breadth of a full party game here, but the end result is still welcome and enjoyable. Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain might not be the 2021 valedictorian on Switch, but it certainly earns its passing grade.