Brain Age Review
I remember this one program we had when I was in middle school. We'd go to the computer lab once or twice a month to get on the computers and play a 'game' - it was really just an elaborate way to get us to practice simple math problems. We had to make sure to pay attention to signs and such, though - if we didn't, there was a good chance that the answer would be wrong.
Now, you may ask what the motivation was to get better? No, it wasn't for grades. For me, at least, I just wanted to improve my score. While I've never been much of a competitive type of gamer, I've always wanted to compete with myself and improve over my last results. Getting a higher score at this math game would make my day much like getting a faster time at a run through Super Mario Brothers would.
Brain Age gives me a chance to go for that high score again. See, Brain Age takes the stance that people don't really get to exercise their brains that much outside of school. Sure, you'll do math problems and other small exercises while in school but what do you do once you get out? Brain Age is there to fill that void for adults and can even help kids who are still in school by giving them a chance to practice.
OK, so this isn't really a game. It is just a collection of activities that are designed to 'sharpen your brain' and, in theory at least, make it healthier. The theory behind it is that the brain needs to be worked out in the same way that people need to work out regularly to stay in shape. Working out on the brain is supposed to make it 'stronger' and help out in many areas.
Brain Age was originally released in Japan and was designed by Japanese neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima. The little challenges included are designed to get the blood pumping through your brain. They're nothing big - simple math problems, counting people that come and go from a house or counting syllables in a paragraph are but a few of the challenges. While they aren't horribly difficult, they will require you to pay attention (particularly the math problems - watch the signs!) to be able to succeed.
At first, I had an issue with the game, both in the way the microphone picked up my voice for the Stroop test (say the color of a word, not the word itself) and the way it picked up my handwriting. After playing for a bit, though, I managed to train myself in the right way to say words and write numbers - I had to do something similar with Nintendogs' voice recognition. The microphone seems to have a hard time picking up certain sounds. In the end, though, neither of these issues are that big of a deal since you can learn how to work with them.
Your overall goal with the game is to get your brain age to 20. Now, this brain age is nothing much more than a score you can use to track how much better you're getting at the 'game' - sometimes you will mess up not because you didn't know the answer but because the game read a number wrong. The game will record your brain age once a day and chart your progress on a graph. Mine is still slowly moving up (well, down -- it is getting younger)
Also, the scores from the minigames are tracked. For example, Calculations x 20 (20 math problems as fast as possible) measures you in seconds. It will plot each time recorded (one per day) on a line graph so that you can track your progress. This tracking of the progress is what keeps me coming back to the game. I'm working at improving my calculations score, still - I'm down to 16.30 seconds!
Another nice bonus with the game, and one that will seal the purchase for many, is the inclusion of Sudoku. While there have been varying versions of this new puzzle game phenomenon released as LCD games, the one included with Brain Age is a very nice bonus. Why? Well, you can actually use the stylus to do the puzzles. Small numbers and big numbers are both used (the small ones are kept as notes while the big ones are actual answers) in the game for different reasons and Brain Age picks up on them well.
However, the Sudoku game is missing something - a random puzzle generator. Though, really - after doing the 100 included puzzles, you'll likely not remember the solutions to the earlier ones anyways and it'll be like a fresh experience. Any way you look at it, though, the 100 puzzles are going to last you for awhile.
In the end, I definitely feel that Brain Age is a worthwhile purchase. For $20, you get some fun minigames to play that will track your progress along with 100 Sudoku puzzles. Whether you buy the game as a minor distraction or as a way to keep your brain 'in shape' there is a lot here to enjoy. Just don't get too frustrated at first with the voice recognition or the handwriting recognition - you'll figure out how to work through those issues pretty fast.