Insulting your audience might work for angry young bands and caustic comedians, but it's not a tactic that's been much explored in computer games. Well, apart from Doctor Kawashima's genre-defining Brain Training games.
The first time you test your brain age, it's almost certain you'll end up glowing in embarrassment while the doctor's disembodied face (which, despite its crude polygonal construction, still manages to look smug) chuckles at how slow or old your brain is. Just look at the effect he had on Nicole Kidman!
Still, with the original Brain Training game, the Doctor and Nintendo struck gaming gold. With its vaguely serious-minded purpose and the suggestion that there was some kind of scientific rationale behind the mini-games, millions of copies were sold worldwide and numerous imitators spawned. And now it's time to return and show those copycats how it's really done with More Brain Training from Dr Kawashima: How Old Is Your Brain?.
The main structure of the game, and the graphics and sound, are pretty much identical to its predecessor, consisting of a series of tests bolstered by a training regime of simple exercises involving reading, writing, arithmetic, memory and quick reactions. Mostly these are executed on the touchscreen while the DS is held on its side, like a book.
Dr Kawashima assesses your performance in these tests, and then reports your 'brain age', Nintendo's own take on intelligence. The idea is that repeated playing sharpens your thinking, and so makes your grey matter less, well, grey.
Once again, the core game rewards diligent, daily training. Clocking in every day results in date stamps for your play-log, and unlocks new content in the form of more training mini-games. Once again there are also sudoku puzzles for those who can't abide a disordered grid, though these don't relate to the core game, while a Quick Play mode offers taster sessions without the risk of reproach from the Doc when you skip a day.
So far, so similar. The training exercises themselves are entirely new, however. They're also, in general, faultlessly brief, easy to pick up, and pleasantly challenging.
Some are a little simple, such as speed calculations of the correct change due from purchases and repetitive deductions, and clocking in on a daily basis for such menial tasks might seem scarily like work for some players. But these are often provide welcome respite from potential head-benders such as Memorise 5x5, which gives you two minutes to remember the location of 25 numbers in a grid, or Word Blend, which asks you to identify words spoken simultaneously.
Another tricky test is Masterpiece Recital, in which you have to play along to a piece of music on a one-octave keyboard; this clearly rewards those with existing skills. Meanwhile, the 'say what you see, not what you read' Stroop colour tests of the original are replaced with a microphone-activated version of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
There are also two noteworthy mode additions, though these are more in the way of bolt-ons rather than anything integral to the game.
Hidden in the training mode is the Germ Buster mini-game. This is a generic puzzler, in which the player must use falling drug capsules to destroy germs by aligning three blocks of the same colour. It's not connected to the main game at all, although the Doc comes up with some spurious sounding scientific justification for it, billing it as a cool-down exercise for after your mental jerks.
There's also an ad-hoc multiplayer mode for up to 16 players – something lifted from Nintendo's rather more party-focused brain training game, Big Brain Academy. This comprises three competitive modes based on the training exercises, and one mode in which players are asked to draw pictures of a subject and then to vote on the best among the offerings. It's a nice little party game, if you can muster enough DS-owning buddies.
Occasional problems with the handwriting and voice recognition reappear in this sequel, but you can work around the handwriting issue with a bit of practice. Voice recognition is a more significant failing, but you do at least have the option of foregoing the dubious joys of Rock, Paper, Scissors during brain age tests, in favour of non-spoken exercises. We found this trick drastically improved our brain age, as well as reducing our blood pressure and the threat of a broken DS. Cleverer and calmer? Now that's a lesson worth learning.
Altogether the all-new exercises and a few subtle innovations add up to another engaging title, especially thanks to the budget price of £19.99.