Elementary, my dear.
For a company so deeply rooted in gamer minds, Nintendo sure is trying to distance itself from gamers, even going so far as to announce a new branding of its un-games division. Dubbed ‘Touch Generation,’ the label is intended to cover titles that don’t require much gaming experience to enjoy, the kind of user-friendly, stylus-driven software that appeals to young and old alike.
Or rather, exclusively. While the euphemistic Touch Generation mingles pleasantly with Nintendo’s airy Blue Ocean philosophy, it also leaves behind Nintendo’s core audience, the folks that grew up addicted to their more engaging software and hardware. More like Losing Touch with a Generation, if you ask me, and I should know, because my brain weighs over 1400 grams.
[image1]At least that’s what Big Brain Academy tells me. The first title to actually ship under the Touch Generation brand, this spiritual successor to the bizarrely well-received Brain Age further tests the mettle of your matter through a whole new set of brain-wrenching activities. And while it certainly delivers more color and variety than its stark, workmanlike predecessor, it gets old just as quickly.
The concept behind this cortex quizzer is that it can determine how much your brain weighs through a series of tests. Absurd? You bet, but unlike Brain Age’s ridiculous claim that extended play may lead to a younger, healthier brain, Big Brain Academy doesn’t embrace any scientific theories. It tests you, weighs your brain, tells you what your equivalent profession would be, and that’s it. Provided you don’t take it too personally, you can let the fake science go.
The tests themselves cover five categories - Compute, Identify, Think, Memorize and Analyze - and each is represented by three separate tests. In the game’s primary mode (Test), you simply run through a random selection of these fifteen games, one from each category, and are then awarded an overall score based on your accumulated results.
In general, the activities are more fun than the straightforward SAT tests of Brain Age. Compute games like Written Math, in which you have to solve written math problems, are probably the least enticing, especially compared to Identify games like Shadow Shift, where you have to match objects to their revolving silhouettes, or the Memorize game Sound Bites, where you have to repeat a series of sounds by touching the correct pictures. The variety is good and all are unlocked right from the start, as opposed to Brain Age’s slow, frustrating burn.
[image2]However, that also means Big Brain Academy is missing one of Brain Age’s most redeeming qualities: long-term value. You can Practice to earn little medals, but the games simply aren’t very rewarding in and of themselves. Counting cubes in Cube Game or comparing coin values in Coin-parison is precisely as fun as it sounds. That leaves you with repeating the Test over and over again just to see if you can get your brain to weigh a lot and finally shed your title as, say, a lawyer.
Good luck with that, by the way, because the game is strangely hard in its scoring and oddly random in its job assignment. My first brain weight was about 1100 – a C+, equating me with a musician. My most recent score was a whopping 1402 – a B, equating me with…a musician. Pardon? I know it’s meant to just be a fun, goofy joke, but how hard is it to at least come up with something better than a seemingly random phrase generator? And as a real-life musician, I guarantee we are not generally smarter than museum curators (1235, a B-.)
We are, however, smarter than game website editors, at least if they work at GR. I know this because of the game’s quirky multiplayer mode. Playable with only one game card using the DS Download and play function, multiplayer takes you and up to seven friends through the games in a more competitive, timed format. Though the loading can be a bit long, it works well and adds significant life to the product. Plus, since the games themselves are so easy to pick up, you won't automatically pwn new players. Unless you're a musician.
[image3]Where Brain Age embraced function, Big Brain Academy prefers form. Brighter colors, goofy characters and quirky art make it a more pleasing way to break some neurons. The soundtrack theme loop can be a bit much, but since you only really play the game for a few minutes at a time, it never gets overwhelming.
Which, I guess, is what Nintendo was going for all along. Despite its collegiate overtone, Big Brain Academy sticks to its grade-school roots by keeping the activities light and colorful, the multiplayer engaging and the price tag low ($20.) But no matter how you dissect it, this is still little more than a series of fairly innocuous tests released just in time for summer vacation. It doesn’t take a heavy brain to know how stupid that is.