Reviews// Brain Age (DS)

The Genius of Satoru Iwata

Posted 23 May 2006 16:33 by
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that videogames are all too often linked with many a negative side-effect, ranging from strained vision to the merciless slaughtering of multiple innocent people. While those of us who have managed to maintain our sanity through years of violent gaming will tell you that that 99.999% of the tabloid media hype is nonsense, there is of course a great deal of evidence pointing to games being able to manipulate (to some extent) the mind of the user.

This is of course not a blanket condemnation however, as games, much like guns, do not kill people. Rappers do. Guns can be used for good, they can protect the innocent, they can be used for hunting for food, and we’re sure the NRA probably has a list of other less obvious yet semi-valid claims lying around somewhere if you care to look for them. Point is: anything that has the potential to affect a person in a negative way more than likely could also have a positive effect. Enter Nintendo’s “Brain Age”. Dum. Dum. Dum!

The story goes a little something like this: some time in the middle of 2004 Nintendo was hard at work on the forthcoming DS handheld. Its ostansibly makeshift/slapdash rebuttal to Sony’s super sleek first foray into the land of handheld gaming. Nintendo had heard all the critiques of the early systems that had shown at E3 that year and they knew they needed a way to prove that the system’s real appeal lay not in fancy graphics but in its ability to offer new kinds of gaming experiences and possibly even redefine our perception of what a "videogame" is (ie to be more than just a bunch of gimmicks slapped on a Gameboy).

This was not exactly an easy row to hoe, as you can imagine. As fate would have it heightened interest in a certain book happened to be sweeping across the little banana-shaped nation at the time and a few of the members of NOJ’s board of directors, not least of which Nintendo president Satura Iwata, had been caught in said wave. The book in question was a work by Professor Ryuta Kawashima, a prominent neuroscientist. In it he basically details that through his research he has discovered that the brain, much like a muscle, needs regular exercise to remain fit. He had developed a number of methods for exercising one's brain on a daily basis - a practice which had quickly become commonplace throughout Japan.

During this same time period some small groups at Nintendo HQ had been working on text and voice recognition applications for the DS without yet having a particular goal in mind for either. With this knowledge and his recently found interest in brain training, Iwata was struck with inspiration. After a discussion of the idea with Ninty’s game designer extraordinaire, Shigeru Miyamoto, about constructing a demo, Iwata-san immediately attempted to schedule a meeting with the good professor.

Ironically Prof. Kawashima was initially very disinterested and would only meet with Iwata for one hour on one particular day. Which happened to be the date of the Japanese DS launch. In spite of some opposition from some of the other board members Iwata headed off to meet with the professor, DS in hand, and proceeded to wow the good doctor rather thoroughly. What was supposed to be a one-hour meeting turned into an all day discussion, the fruits of which are now, amazingly, in millions of hands across the world.

So, what is it and should you care? Well to summarize it as simply as possible, it’s kind of like Warioware, but instead of picking your nose you do math, and get graded on it. Admittedly even we wouldn’t bother to try it if that was the only description we got, so rather than go for the quick summation we will instead attempt to give you a more detailed taste of what Brain Training is like, through the power of words!
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