Guest Author - James Shea
Numerous studies have shown that doing crossword puzzles and sudoku puzzles helps to keep your brain active. Brain Age takes this to the next level, with charts and graphs of your progress.
First, let me say that I have an issue with the whole concept of "Brain Age". The game claims that your ideal brain is at age 20 and that any age older than that is a "bad brain". That is pretty silly. There are 20 year olds who have very 'dead' brains because all they do is watch TV all day. There are also 60 year olds who are incredibly smart and who do fantastic research and writing. I realize of course that this game wants to "lure you in" with promises of eternal youth - that's what our whole culture is about in these modern times. Still, I wish that they could have chosen another way to do it - that you are running 100% optimal, or 20% optimal or so on. To have you "aim to be 20" seems very silly to me.
The game's *premise* is a sound one, though. The more you exercise your brain, the more the blood flow moves through your brain and the healthier it is. Study after study shows that elderly people who use their brains remain alert - while those who vegetate alone in a room decay quickly. This game uses exercises that apparently have been proven in tests to boost that brain flow.
The setup of the game is well done. Each day you have a series of tests you do. There are numerous graphs and charts to show you how well you are improving over all, and if other people are doing their own profiles on your DS you can compare against them as well.
While the setup is good, the implementation has numerous problems. This is the sort of game that I will really like version 2 of - but version 1 just wasn't quality tested enough.
First, the speech recognition. One of the core games in this is the classic color game where you see the word RED written in black letters, and have to say "black". It's been around for a while, and it's a fun challenge. The problem is that this game has ALL sorts of trouble understanding what you're saying. The word "blue" seems to really give it problems. So you get the word properly - but it doesn't hear you, and you get penalized.
All they had to do is have the system train itself on your voice - i.e. have you say "red" 10 times in a row, for it to learn what your pronunciation of that word is. Otherwise it becomes an exercise in frustration, because you don't know what the game is trying to hear.
Note that we have MANY games that use the mic on the DS. We know how to use it, we know to speak clearly and softly, not to yell. We've tried multiple pronunciations of "blue" and "bluu" and "bloo" and "blew". None works regularly. It's definitely a software problem.
Next, the character recognition. Many of the games involve you writing things on the touch pad - either numbers for the math games or letters for the word memorization. However, the game only has certain ways that it wants these to be written - and it doesn't tell you. You spend the first few games cursing because every time you write a "4" the game thinks it's a "9". Every "B" becomes a "R". After a while through trial and error you learn to alter your natural writing style to match what the game seems to want - which is silly. The game should ask YOU to write the letters the way you want to - and then know to match against those.
There's also a lot of inane "chatter" before you can play games. It's cute the first time, and maybe the second, but then it gets really annoying. If you have 10 minutes to do your "daily workout" you don't want to waste 5 of it hitting "next screen" while he blathers on about eating breakfast.
The sudoku puzzles are fun, but easy. Most of us have access to online Sudoku and have thousands and thousands available of all difficulty levels. There are only a few here comparatively and my boyfriend easily gets the "rocket ship speed" doing them.
My main complaint is that there are a ton of brain-challenging games out already for the DS that boast great gameplay, graphics, sound and long term playability. They definitely test your brain in the exact same manner. Lumines, Tetris and Polarium spring to mind. Those involve a lot of quick thinking and pattern recognition. Why couldn't Brain Age involve puzzles more like that? Why are the puzzles all so "boring"? Do IQ tests *have* to be boring? There are hundreds of educational software programs for the PC that do the exact same test styles - number matching, addition etc. - that are incredibly fun. This game by comparison appears that it was made in the 80s as far as that goes.
Still, we play it every day, to get in our "brain education time". In general I found this to be a great *start*. However, I really think they can do MUCH better with this concept in the next version. They can fix the problems with voice and character recognition. They can bring the graphics and sounds up into the 21st century. They can add in more variety of games. This was a nice start - but there really should be much more depth to a game that they expect you to play day after day for months on end.
Brain Age Walkthrough
Buy Brain Age DS from Amazon.com