Mario Kart DS (Second Opinion) Nintendo DS Review

Brain Age: Train Your Brain In Minutes A Day! Nintendo DS Review

It isn’t very often that a piece of educational gaming software proves entertaining. The NES saw a heavy amount of them, with games starring Sesame Street characters, Barbie and Donkey Kong. These games could’ve had simple addition and subtraction or child level reading. Regardless of what it was, some proved helpful, while some were just downright bizarre and boring. The Nintendo DS seems to be the newest platform for this kind of software. With so many features at its disposal, including the dual screens, touch screen and microphone, many educational possibilities are open. Brain Age: Train Your Brain In Minutes A Day just happens to be one of the first DS applications that takes advantage of this.

Let’s get something straight first. If you own the DS and crave high-end graphics, this game won’t be for you. The applications featured on this game could be easily found on the internet in some form, so there is absolutely nothing elaborate. Really, the most detailed aspect of it happens to be an animated head of the very neurologist that helped develop this application. Everything else is just basic text, color and 2D figures. There’s nothing 3D about this game, as there’s no need for it. In other words, the graphics definitely serve their intended purpose, but it’s nothing mind-blowing whatsoever.

How you see the game displayed is unique though. Instead of holding the DS the traditional way, you actually have to hold it tilted on its side. Just imagine the microphone hole being to your far right when holding it, and you should understand. Instead of seeing the screens in their horizontal fashion, you view them vertically, which actually makes it easier to do the available applications.

Now with that out of the way, let’s get into what the software offers. Once again, nothing that happens to be included in it couldn’t be found on your computer. However, what makes this so intuitive and unique is it’s portable. More than likely you wouldn’t take a desktop or even laptop computer with you to some location just to do brain training exercises. The DS is Nintendo’s latest handheld, and being able to take it and Brain Age with you on the fly is very appealing. When you first fire it up, you’re asked to provide a little personal information. It isn’t anything you should be embarrassed about revealing, as it’s only meant to help personalize your experience with the software. You’ll also write your name down to reserve one of the four profile spaces.

Once you do this, you are pretty much free to do whatever you want. Quick Play offers the core features of the software, it’s just not as time consuming so you could just hand it to a friend or family member to let them try it out. Quick Play doesn’t require personal information, so it puts less pressure on them. Daily Training, though, is where the meat of the application is. The software is called Brain Age for a reason, it is full of little mini-games that are meant to help activate and exercise your prefrontal cortex.

The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that happens to generate a lot of activity when you are doing these activities. The applications may or may not help you strengthen your brain and intelligence. It all depends on how seriously you take it. If you ‘cheat’, the software won’t be of much use. If you do it the right way, you may find some improvement in educational areas that have lacked for you in the past. The animated doctor’s head even treats you to some interesting pictures showing differing brain activities just so you can get an understanding of it. Not only this, but as you begin playing more and more, he offers tips to help you exercise your brain when not using the software.

Anyway, the mini-games are plentiful, so there’s always something to do if you’re interested. Included are basic math applications, reading exercises, memory games and other various activities. All these applications utilize the dual screens, touch screen and microphone very well. The math programs have you simply read off a series of 20 or 100 problems and you have to write the answer in the touch screen as quickly as possible. Writing in the touch screen is pretty much the only special audio you’ll end up hearing though. There’s a neat ‘scratching’ sound when you write your answers to whatever activity you’re doing, so props to the developers for that. You also have Reading Aloud which tests how fast you can read a short, random passage out loud, counting the syllables based on your total time.

When you first start playing this game, you have a limited number of activities to participate in. You actually unlock additional modes and features by coming back to the software on a daily basis. When you complete your first activity for a day, you’re provided with a stamp on the game’s calendar. These stamps are what unlock new features, which can include new activities, as well as other simpler things.

After you finish all the daily training you wish to do, it’s now time to do the official Brain Age Check. This mode in Daily Training is comprised of three random activities that will do calculations to determine just how old your brain currently is. The best score you can get from this is a 20, with the worst being an 80. The most common one is the Stroop Test. There are four colors: red, yellow, blue and black. However, your task is to actually say the color of the word that’s being displayed in either screen, not the actual word itself. So if you see the word ‘RED’ displayed in a blue color, you must say “Blue” into the microphone. Sometimes there may be minor trouble getting the mic to recognize what you say, or having the touch screen recognize everything you write. Generally it isn’t a huge issue though. After doing three activities, the kind doctor presents you with your Brain Age of the day.

Finally, Brain Age comes with numerous Sudoku applications. It’s actually a very simple program, but it does require a good deal of thinking. Hey, that’s just what this game happens to be all about. Sudoku is rather simple, even if there is a small learning curve. You are presented with a huge grid of 3×3 blocks. You must fill these blocks in with the numbers one through nine, with some blocks obviously being taken care of already. The catch is: you can’t repeat any number in a given 3×3 block or any number in a column and row. All blocks will contain one through nine one time, as well as all columns and rows. It’s a great way to exercise your brain, as they can really make you think.

Brain Age is a very unique piece of software for our beloved handheld. It’s really the first of its kind for the platform, and we’re bound to receive more versions here in the U.S. soon. There are already three out in Japan, and each have sold over one million copies each. It’s not only fantastic that it’s portable, but that the game can prove useful and entertaining to virtually all ages. Young children can improve their math and reading skills, while senior citizens can keep their brain active and fight against potential brain problems. Even young adults and middle-aged people have something to do here. While the presentation itself isn’t jaw dropping, the price tag is. For $20, having access to this kind of material is very valuable.