We hated school. Compulsory education didn’t really do us any favours – trying only to got you beaten up by the stodgy git during breaktime. But it does do something useful we guess. It gives us the foundations of knowledge. Knowledge that we later take to our future jobs, further education or other such endeavours. At least, that would be the case, if we hadn’t just forgotten everything we learned at school as soon as we left.
It’s good to train your brain every so often, so that you don’t forget simple maths and end up a slave to the ‘Calculator’ on your computer, like most of us already are. Nintendo has been keen to tell us this, with the Nintendo DS being a perfect platform for IQ-boosting puzzle-solving. Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training has been a good example of this, a sublime game that tests your brainpower every day. Knowing they were on a winner with this type of thing, Nintendo has released Big Brain Academy, and whilst similar in its aim, presents the puzzles and training in a different way to appeal to those who feel Kawashima’s a bit too business-like. Or Oil of Olay-like (if anyone’s seen the adverts).
The presentation of the game is simple but charismatic, with a professor called ‘Dr. Lobe’ guiding you through his Academy of Big Brains. When you first load the game, Dr. Lobe gives some quirky interesting facts depending on the time of the day and also gives you pointers on the different mini-games that are on offer. There are 15 mini-games in total, spanning five different brain-testing categories, and while none of these challenge the DS graphically, in a game such as this you’re not going to want to be confused with flashy 3D effects while you’re working against the clock.
But the clock is the least of your worries when you launch into any of these tests. You are advised to enter a practice mode when you begin a new save game, to prepare for the big ‘Test’ that lies ahead. Much like school, these practice sessions involve you running through a mini-game of your choice over-and-over again until you get it right. Depending on how well you did, you can earn a bronze, silver or gold medal to show off to your mates how clever you are (just don’t do a Homer Simpson and misspell ‘smart’).
The categories in question are different enough for you to be totally brilliant in one of them, yet suck royally in another. ‘Think’ involves working-out puzzles, such as drawing paths in a maze for animals to meet up, figuring out the heaviest item on a pair of scales and following directions to guess where a dog will end up on the playing field. There are ‘Memory’ games to play too, such as memorising hidden images, getting flashed numbers to type or paying attention to the order of which items make noise. The ‘Analyse’ category asks you to be mindful of what is on the screen, and has you drawing missing lines, matching patterns and counting cubes (yes, that horrible little puzzle from yesteryear returns with a vengeance!). The other two categories are ‘Identify’ and ‘Calculate’, which feature match puzzles and shape-building in the former, and evil addition and number games in the latter. Not that we hate the ‘Calculate’ section or anything…
You can choose the puzzles themselves to be easy, normal or hard difficulty, and playing these mini-games ranges from hilariously easy to eye-crossingly hard. You get 60 seconds to complete as many different puzzles as possible. The game counts the ones you get wrong as well as the ones you get right in judging your brain weight, so randomly tapping answers won’t get you much but a ticket to Dunceville. In the test there is only one difficulty, but whether in test or practice, you will start off with simple puzzles and then sharply progress to very difficult problems. You are then given a score based on how big your brain should be.