It weighs 400 grammes, contains 100 billion neurons, looks like a giant walnut and tastes like sour nougat – yes, the human brain is an amazing thing.
Your brain, for instance, has probably worked out by now that only three out of those four opening statements are true. Smart eh?
It's this sort of quick thinking that Nintendo is trying to encourage with its series of games to improve our little grey cells. Already enormously successful in Japan, where OAPs flocked in their millions to test its rejuvenating powers, the first of the games to hit European shores goes under the appropriately taxing title of Dr Kawashima's Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain?.
The game is best described as a daily mental workout, although homework might seem equally accurate. You even have to hold your DS as if it was a book, with the touchscreen (now oriented as the righthand screen) used to write down your answers.
The task part of the experience consists of around a dozen touchscreen and voice-activated mini-games. Entering a Quick Play mode, you can mess around with the mini-games to get a feel for them without your performance being saved. The main meat of Brain Training however is the Daily Training mode – your performance here is recorded so you can see how your brain age changes.
Spending ten minutes a day completing three of the tests, which are chosen randomly, Brain Training notes your performance and rates you with a brain age of between 20 (excellent) and 80 (senile). By coming back regularly – you can only take one test per day – you and up to three other users start to generate your own brain age graphs. (Dr Kawashima continually reminds you to get your family members to have a go as well.)
And for a couple of weeks, it's quite fun. You'll certainly improve your mental arithmetic skills, for instance, thanks to the 20- and 100-question games. Here simple sums appear on the lefthand screen and you write down the answers with your stylus on the touchscreen. It takes some time to get used to forming the numbers correctly ('8' and '4' can be a problem) but generally the software does a fine job of recognising the correct digit.
Other tasks include reading chunks of classic literature as fast as possible, or counting from one to 120 aloud. In both these cases, you can cheat – you're just told when to start and there's a button to press when you're finished. But as you'd only be cheating yourself, what's the point?
Further tests are unlocked the more regularly you play. They include tasks such as syllable counting, and working out the difference in minutes and seconds between two analogue clockfaces.
Cleverly, while these mini-games are available for you to practice through, most of the ones used in the actual brain tests aren't. The latter include the psychological Stroop Test, where you have to shout out the colour of words. It sounds easy but the words are also colours, so you'll be dealing with the word 'red' that's coloured blue, which does get you thinking. Another tricky number is the word memory test, where you have three minutes to memorise 30 four-letter words.
Dr Kawashima's Brain Training is not all hard work – there are some entertaining elements too, such as the floating head of Dr Kawashima. Acting as your helper, he greets you when you switch on, cracks the occasional joke, and admonishes you if you haven't played for a while. There's a nice touchscreen version of Sudoku as well. This contains 100 puzzles, although true Sudoku experts will find even the hardest easypeasy.
If you're committed enough to keep playing for months, Dr Kawashima's Brain Training will keep you on your toes. It shouldn't be taken too seriously though. It's not difficult enough to get you thinking in the way a good cryptic crossword would, for example. Also the brain age you're awarded seems fairly random, with day-by-day performance often fluctuating by 10-15 years.
But it's a neat idea and well-implemented. Don't be surprised if granny sneaks a DS onto her gift list this year.
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