Body and Brain Connection Review
Few video games can claim to be “Doctor Approved”, but Body and Brain Connection, the latest family-friendly game from Namco Bandai certainly can. Brought to us exclusively on 360 for Kinect, Body and Brain is approved by and stars Dr. Ryuta Kawashima—his Xbox avatar version anyway—the Japanese neuroscientist who inspired Nintendo's popular Brain Age series. While the game's exercises are fun and give you an all-too-clear picture of your pathetic mental capacity, there's also a disappointingly low number of them.
The first thing you do after starting the game is take a test to gauge your “brain age”. This test is meant to be done daily and the game marks your results down on a calendar and then proceeds to track your progress whenever you play. It's an interesting idea, akin to Wii Fit, and helps you see over time, how much sharper (or duller) you're getting. When you're ready to begin, the Kinect takes a picture of you (Note: this happens without warning so if you're picking your nose when it happens you'll be forced to live with the photo throughout the test) and then Dr. Kawashima subjects you to three preliminary exercises. After completing these exercises, you're given a drum roll and then your brain age. (Now I'm not telling anyone what mine was but for reference, a 33 year old friend of mine, who obviously has a brain like a slug, scored a gasp-worthy 56.) Anyway, once the brain age test has convinced you of the need to start drinking more caffeine, you continue to fire up that frontal lobe by engaging in more tests that collectively, play like the first fitness program ever to come out of Mensa.
You start by choosing from several game modes: Today's Exercises, which are chosen for you by Dr. Kawashima's avatar and are meant to help you improve your scores; Custom Exercises, which allow you to try any of the game's twenty individual tests and Group Exercises, which lets 1-4 people take turns and compete against each other. If you stick with the single player, you'll have a preset amount of time to do things like solving simple math equations, shape matching, reacting quickly to onscreen stimuli or memorizing and recreating the Madonna-Vogue-like poses of a group of Xbox avatars. Each test starts with a tutorial explaining what to do and then you perform whatever crazy thing is asked of you until an “End” message appears onscreen. Once done, you're given a score for the test ranging from A-F. There are three difficulty levels: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced, and once the lower ones are complete, the higher ones unlock. When they do, you're given the option to move on to a higher difficulty or to retry for a better score at the original one.
Mind you, although the game’s title mentions both body and brain, it isn't about physical fitness. Nothing you do will cause you to work up a sweat or even raise your heart rate so don't buy this game thinking it's a weight loss aid. Body and Brain is about exercising your mental faculties which for most people—if our group's results were any indication—could use a little working out. The game's activities are fun and just silly enough to make for a good party game, asking you to play whack-a-mole, pop colored balloons or solve multiplication problems by punching hanging speed bags. It's all pretty entertaining, especially in a group. I mean, how can't it be hilarious seeing your family and friends struggle with what seem like “easy” little tests and even better, seeing their lousy scores grant them the humiliating title of “Booing Banisher”?
Overall, Body and Brain has a lot going for it but it does have a few annoying little problem areas. For one thing, you use your arms and legs to submit answers to the game's tests and the Kinect's so-so ability to faithfully capture your movements occasionally causes problems. You’ll really feel it during reflex tests where response time is key. You'll flail around, trying desperately to position your arms “just so” while the Kinect sensor in turn ignores you, cackling mercilessly while adding several seconds to your time. Also, the game’s onscreen cursors sometimes seem to float and jitter, even when your hands are stationary or hanging down by your sides. Finally, in terms of activities, there's just not enough of them. You can definitely spend a good amount of time getting really good at the existing exercises and can try them out on different difficulties but in the end, you can't help but wish you had more to choose from.
Body and Brain Connection is an ambitious idea and definitely fills a niche for Xbox Kinect. It offers gamers an interesting concept, making them more aware than any other game could, of the connection between thought and action. It also offers a selection of interesting little tests, nice stat tracking and an amusing multiplayer mode. However, boredom's a killer when it comes to any kind of workout and so despite the game's novelty, its limited number of exercises are unlikely to keep anyone's attention for too long.