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Big Brain Academy Review

By Brian Beck, 6/14/2006

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I remember the whole “edu-tainment” craze in games when I was younger. One of the more popular games that spearheaded the fervor was “Donkey Kong Jr. Math.” Nintendo took their popular ape and put him in a game where you did math problems. The big N was trying to get parents to realize that video games didn’t just have to be about goomba-stomping – they could also be educational.

Fast forward a couple of decades and games have come a long way. Recently, Nintendo released Brain Age – a game that, while not totally educational, gave you a chance to exercise your brain in a similar way to how you go to the gym to work out. While it was pretty basic overall, Brain Age did present some fun and interesting challenges. The minigames that were included were entertaining in short bursts, the way Nintendo hoped the game would be played.

Now, we have Big Brain Academy. Very similar to Brain Age, Big Brain Academy also measures your brain. This time around, though, it isn’t a measure of how old your brain is but how much it weighs. Also, the whole game feels as if it was geared at a slightly younger audience. The minigames included feel more like games and less like exercises.

The first thing you’ll notice when you start up Big Brain Academy is that it feels more like a game. The graphics are colorful and, at times, funny. The font even has a happier feel to it – the letters aren’t formed out of straight lines but are curved. The font is just a small indicator to the overall attitude of the game. Instead of going for a textbook type feel, Big Brain Academy goes for a more colorful and upbeat approach. Professor Lobe, for example, has a cartoony look – heck, he’s just a head and a couple of lines extending down. His look, though, sets the feel for the entire game. While some may have been turned off of Brain Age because of the lack of a real ‘game’ feel, Big Brain Academy won’t have the same issue.

While the game does share some similarities to Brain Age, it also has some major differences. The first big difference involves the challenges. Instead of simply doing math problems or memorizing a list of words, you’ll try to figure out if a bee or two frogs weigh more or decide which side of the screen has more money on it. There are also a couple of basic math and memorization type activities, but handwriting recognition won’t get in the way – you type the answers into a calculator. In all, there are a total of 15 games and each one feels different.

Another major difference in the two games is the way your progress is measured. Brain Age had a nice graph that kept track of your improvements or, possibly, lack of improvement. Big Brain Academy, though, will only keep track of your highest score. That score is measured in weight of your brain this time around and there seems to be even less of a science behind this score. The game doesn’t really test as much in the way of brain function as it gives you a chance to go for a higher score. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily – it’ll still get your brain working in ways it may not normally. Just don’t look to this as a scientific measurement of brain function.

The game’s way of measuring does, however, have some flaws. While it randomly picks you one activity from each of five categories, some of the games have a much higher difficulty level. This can result in your score being far lower or higher than it was in a previous attempt. Learning each of the games is more focused on coming up with shortcuts for performing each activity. Once you’ve mastered that, the game is simply a matter of how fast and accurately you can tap the stylus.

Some of the games, though, are pretty unique. One of my favorites is the dog and bone one. See, you will have a few cards on the top of your screen – the dog or, on the higher difficulty levels, blocks. Each of these cards will point in a different direction. You have to place the bone for the dog based on where he will end up after he moves and the blocks push them. It is, in the end, a basic logic puzzle. But I enjoyed it and, after playing for awhile, am sure that it would help me to think faster.

After completing all of these challenges, you’ll get a score. Your brain’s weight will be measured in grams and a letter grade based on the weight. You’ll also get a “profession” that your brain most resembles. This can be interesting and funny, particularly if you get a profession you absolutely hate. In the end, though, the score isn’t good for much more than comparing to your friends and trying to get a higher score. However, unlike Brain Age, you can test yourself as many times per day as you want – no once-a-day tests to try to improve your score.

You can also compete with one cartridge via Wifi. You and up to seven opponents can have a competition to complete certain challenges faster. Once your brain hits a certain size, you win the competition. Each of the challenges are ones you’ll see in the single player game, but playing them alongside buddies can lead to lots of fun little moments. The multiplayer definitely adds to an already fun set of minigames.

In all, I can say that I enjoyed Big Brain Academy and feel it is a wonderful addition to the Brain Age-style games. Nintendo has really hit on a different market than the traditional gamers. Between Brain Age and, now, Big Brain Academy, Nintendo will sell many DSes and pull a whole different crowd into gaming. For $20, I’d definitely recommend picking a copy of this up – you will enjoy yourself and get your money’s worth.

Overall: 85%



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