Impressions: Brain Age: Concentration Training Demo

Fiendishly focused

Inspired by the work of famed neuroscientist Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, Nintendo's Brain Age games aim to keep players' minds sharp through daily mental exercises, and have proven popular since the DS original, Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!. The first 3DS entry in the series, Brain Age: Concentration Training focuses its efforts on improving players' concentration, making it especially relevant in the age of constant multitasking and information addiction. A demo has been added to the North American eShop ahead of the game's release on 10th February (8th March in Europe), and we spent some time with the brain-training trial to bring you our impressions.

The game's Japanese title (Dr. Kawashima's Devilish Brain Training) helps explains why the charmingly animated — and seemingly mild-mannered — Professor Kawashima turns red and grows horns before introducing players to the demo's three-round bout of Devilish Calculations, one of many Devilish Training exercises available in the final game. The demonic theme is a reference to the fact that these mental gymnastics are designed to be difficult: while the calculations on offer are simple arithmetic problems, the considerable challenge lies in how they're presented.

After an excellent and fully-voiced tutorial, the first round starts trainees in the "1-Back" mode, where players are shown a series of calculations in sequence and asked to give the answer for the preceding problem, rather than the one currently on the screen. It's actually easier than it sounds, and boils down to memorizing the answer to one problem before viewing the second, but it still requires a commendable level of concentration.

The "2-Back" mode, however, is where these calculations truly earn their "Devilish" descriptor. Here players need to provide the answer for the equation two back in the sequence, which means juggling two previous answers and solving the problem on screen all at once. It's seriously challenging — feeling a bit like the mathematical equivalent of patting your head while rubbing your belly — but it's incredibly satisfying to keep a chain going for as long as possible, and becomes easier to wrap your head around after a few rounds.

Serving the game's "Devilish" aim of training your brain at the very edge of your ability, the difficulty level changes between rounds based on your performance: score 85% or higher and you'll go up a level, while finishing the round with under 65% will see your level will drop by one. In the demo's Devilish Calculations, that means moving from 1-Back to 2-Back, or vice-versa. The dynamic difficulty definitely keeps trainees on their toes, and continually working at your limit makes even incremental improvements feel triumphant.

At the end of the third round, Dr. Kawashima pulls back his horns, returns to his natural colour, and assesses the player's performance in terms of their "Brain Age" (which may or may not have been septuagenarian in our case). Games in the Brain Age series are meant to be played a little bit each day, so the demo's 30-use limit should give players a solid month to work towards a younger brain.

Brain Age: Concentration Training's exercises might be fiendishly tough, but the game itself is a pleasure to deal with. Handwriting recognition is quick and accurate — even with the hastily scrawled input that high-pressure Devilish Training seems to inspire — and the presentation carries the high level of polish typical of Nintendo's output, including excellent use of the 3D effect on the disembodied Dr. Kawashima.

The full version of Brain Age: Concentration Training will feature more Devilish Training modes, along with new and returning Brain Training exercises and a Relaxation Mode for post-conditioning cerebral cool-downs. It launches on 10th February in North America and 8th March in Europe, and players looking to ensure their brains (and bodies) are ready for the game's release can grab the demo from the North American eShop now.

Have you tried the demo and, if so, what did you think?