Big Brain Academy
Big Brain Academy, Nintendo's second "brain training" DS title, is also the one we at Modojo think needs a higher profile on DS fans' radar. Slated for a May 30th release, we're just disappointed that the game is just going to miss E3. Multiplayer matches actually claim to determine who has the larger brain, so it's a shame that that particular bit of absurdity will be missing from this year's after-hour festivities.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Better to discuss the brain-bending selection of minigames before running-down the multiplayer modes. Big Brain Academy could be described as "Wario Ware with a point." You're given 60 seconds to solve as many problems as you can, with questions/problems broken into one of five categories, each one designed to work a specific part of the brain.
There are 15 game varieties in all, but the cart gets good mileage out of them via three difficulty levels and a separate high-score for each. The game's difficulty ramped up with shocking rapidity, quickly demoralizing me and wearing out my (apparently quite tiny) brain. In a good way, though.
The simple math quiz began with "2 + 2" but by the end of the 60 seconds I was tasked with solving "? X 6 + 10 - 4 = 64" which isn't difficult math per se, but the pressure's on with the clock ticking away. Here's a look at all five categories, and some of the games they contain. The game descriptions make them sound simplistic, but like the math above it gets plenty difficult at a high level.
Probably the most abstract and slow-paced of the five categories. "Pathfinder" has gamers leading two animals to safety and away from danger by drawing a single line to guide them, nearly identical to a Super Mario 64 DS minigame. "Heavyweight" tasks gamers with choosing the heavier animal after seeing various combinations of animals on scales.
My worst category. "Flash memory" flashes a math problem on-screen for just a brief moment, with solutions punched into a calculator. "Sound bites" plays out like the old Simon, requiring the memorization of more and more beats.
In "Cube game" you're shown a number of cubes in 3D space and have to input how many there are total, remembering that not all are in the field of vision. "Missing link" shows gamers a simplistic completed image, and then shows the same image with one line removed. When the difficulty ramps up the image you have to complete is rotated, making, well, analization required.
"Coin-parison" shows two sets of coins, and you must select which is the greater dollar amount. "Add agency" shows a number on the top screen, and a variety of numbers on the bottom screen. Gamers must select two numbers that equal the top number.
My strongest category. "Shadow shift" shows a 3D rotating silowhette, on the top screen. You pick from a variety of images, attempting to pick up the correct object. "Get in shape" is a classic IQ-test where you use a variety of smaller shapes (triangles, circles, etc) to make a large composite image shown on the top screen.
We were only able to test out the multiplayer with three other gamers, but even that four-player experience proved encouragingly fun. Even better, Nintendo has gone on record that the final product will feature eight-player single-cart play. Multiplayer shows all gamers the same puzzle at the same moment, with the first solver given the most points, and on down the line. Severe penalties are incurred for answering incorrectly, so a balance between speed and your confidence level must be struck.
When Nintendo showed off their Q4/Q1 line-up to select members of the press late last year, there were plenty of great games to check out, including prerelease versions of Super Mario Strikers, Animal Crossing: Wild World, and Mario & Luigi: PiT. I kept putting down those titles to get more playtime with Big Brain Academy. There's just something undeniably attractive about seeing your brain's increased "weight" with each successful round completion.