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#27 The Button Masher’s Perspective on…

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When I first received a Nintendo DS (or to be more accurate, stole my boyfriend’s) I quickly picked up Brain Age and began exercising my brain.  My mother eventually stole the DS from me (where do you think I learned how to swipe things from loved ones?) and started playing Brain Age herself.  Mom enjoyed herself so much that for Christmas I got her a DS and her own copy of Brain Age (not just so I could get mine back – honest) and for her birthday I picked up Big Brain Academy for her.  The game was advertised to be in a similar vein, and I thought it would be perfect.  And of course, I wanted to try it out for myself.

Instead of the smug disembodied head in Brain Age, your guide at the Big Brain Academy is Dr. Lobe, the headmaster.  I’m not sure how to describe his appearance; the best approximation I can find is that of a tapeworm with glasses, moustache, and mortarboard.  He shows you the ropes and grades your performance.

You are tested in five separate areas every time you are evaluated:  think, identify, analyze, memorize, and compute.  There are three different tests for each area, and one is randomly selected for each category.  You have a set amount of time to complete as many of the problems posed as possible.  Then your results are scored based on weight.  The better you do, the weightier (and therefore bigger) the brain.  Then you are assigned a letter grade to go with your brain size.

Personally, my favorite part of the grading is when they tell you what career your brain is best suited to based on your strengths and weaknesses in the different categories.  My personal best has me pegged as a fashion stylist (I’m just as confused as you are about that).  I’ve also been graded as an architect, engineer, and museum curator.  I could definitely see myself as a curator like Marcus Brody getting lost in my own museum (that’s an Indiana Jones reference for those of you that are pop culture deficient).

Aside from the more formal tests, there is also a practice mode where you can hone your skills at the fifteen tests they’ll throw at you.  Each test has three levels of difficulty to attempt.  You can earn medals ranging from bronze to platinum at each level.  Depending on your personal gaming preferences, you may enjoy this more than the actual tests.  There is something to be said for picking your poison.

This game also includes a versus mode so that you can battle friends who also own the game.  Since I don’t have any friends who own the game (at least as far as I know), I haven’t evaluated this function.  I bet it would be a lot of fun though.

The tests themselves vary a great deal.  There are the more traditional tests such as connect the dots, what is the heaviest, and find the match.  There are also very simple tests like count the cubes, remember the numbers, and basic math problems.  It even has  some unique tests I haven’t seen before, including one where you must guide animals along lines to their mates and one where you place a bone where you calculate the dog is going to end up.  Not surprisingly the tests I was unfamiliar with are the ones I am weakest at.

Unless your motor skills are severely impaired by alcohol or drugs, everyone should be able to put in a decent performance in the game.  It can be occasionally frustrating when the stylus slips, but that is more a function of your hand not doing what your brain wants it to than any problem in the game or its controls.  So even the perpetually inept (myself among them) can enjoy this game without too much complaint.

Just like many DS games, the flaw is not in the game itself but in its limited scope.  After all there are only fifteen tests to take, and it can become tiresome very quickly.  It’s up to you whether or not such a brief and simple game is worth the thirty dollars.  Are you the obsessive type, always trying to achieve perfection?  Do you enjoy simple, timed puzzles?  Are you desperate for proof of how smart you are?  Do you want to challenge friends and loved ones for the sheer joy of beating them mercilessly?  If you are, this could be the game for you.  If it’s not, save the thirty dollars and fill your gas tank instead (provided you don’t drive a Hummer, of course).  This game is clearly targeted at the casual gamer, so I have trouble believing anyone who reads this column is in the target demographic.  But this is a game your parents might like.  So next Mother’s Day give some consideration to purchasing your mother a DS and a selection of games like Big Brain Academy.

This columnist would love to hear your thoughts on her work.  All glowing praise should be sent to kwilson@mygamer.com and all hate mail should be directed to the script writers of the 2nd and 3rd Pirates of the Caribbean movies, exactly where it belongs.

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