Ah, Dr Kawashima. It’s been a while since we’ve seen your endearingly polygonal face adorn our handheld screens, but seeing you again filled us with a warm fuzzy feeling that, if we’re honest, caught us by surprise.
Yes, according to a Japanese trailer released on Monday, the doctor will be on call again this December when Train Your Brain: Nintendo Switch Training for Adults comes to Switch in Nintendo's homeland. That’s what it’s called in the east, anyhow – there’s been no announcement for the west just yet and the series has a history of unwieldy, alternate names in different territories. In North America the original game went by the name Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!, whereas UK gamers knew the breakout DS hit as Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain?
Whatever you care to call it, it was an enormously successful piece of software which caught on with a mainstream audience and was a huge factor in the success of Nintendo DS. It might not have placed on our (or, more accurately, your) best Nintendo DS games list, but Brain Training and the other Touch Generations games formed a huge part of the DS’ cross-demographic appeal. Worldwide sales of 19.01 million units puts it at number four in the table of best-selling DS games, behind only New Super Mario Bros., Nintendogs and Mario Kart DS (and perhaps surprisingly, ahead of any of the DS Pokémon games). Its sequel sits in seventh place, too.
For anyone more likely to tackle the crossword in the paper than World 1-1 in New Super Mario Bros., Brain Training was a gateway to the Touch Generation series (which included games as varied as Hotel Dusk: Room 215, Picross DS and Tetris DS). In conjunction with those, it made gaming relatable to a whole new audience. Holding the console like a book and using the stylus removed any ounce of fear for people who found even the Wii Remote too intimidating. After all, everyone’s read a book at some point in their lives (despite the occasional online interaction that suggests otherwise)!
Brain Training's value as a tool for keeping your mind sharp was part of its mainstream appeal, and while it's questionable if it's any better than a good conversation or any other light mental activity, it certainly does no harm and its gamified brainteasers were interactive. The game also piggy-backed on the Sudoku craze with a selection of those puzzles added for good measure. Lowering your estimated brain age was a fun daily challenge with a sufficiently low barrier to entry and a little family-friendly rivalry never did any harm, either.
The last time we saw Dr Kawashima in Europe actually wasn’t that long ago. While North America enjoyed Brain Age: Concentration Training in 2013 - just a year after its Japanese debut - the 3DS entry in the series arrived comically late in the UK in July 2017. No, that is not a typo – the game released on 3DS four months after the Switch launched. We know NHS waiting times aren’t great, but five years waiting for the retitled Dr Kawashima's Devilish Brain Training: Can you stay focused? is taking the mickey, no?
The initial trailer for the upcoming Switch entry (another longer introduction video has also been published - you'll find it at the bottom of the page) starts off with what we assume to be a mother and son playing Rock, Paper, Scissors against the computer using the right Joy-Con’s IR camera. They then go on to do simple calculations using fingers to provide the numbers rather than writing them via the touchscreen (coincidentally, very recently we looked back at the gesture recognition patent Nintendo filed detailing exactly this application of the IR sensor). We assume this is an optional input method in addition to the familiar stylus input shown later in the trailer (yes, the game will come bundled with a stylus which will also be available as a standalone purchase).
The trailer goes on to show a competitive race to count the number of objects you see on screen before your partner does, followed by a semaphore-style activity where you try to remember a sequence of flag movements. It then cuts to an older woman writing Kanji and completing the rudimentary sums we all remember from the original DS game, all using a stylus and holding the Switch vertically (with Joy-Con attached, too). Finally, we get some glimpses of other games with an emphasis on the communal, social benefits of the software before granny picks up her gym bag and pops out for her weekly squash meet.
The Japanese website for the game goes into much more detail of what to expect and drills down on the same mental benefits used to sell the previous entries in the series. There'll be box counting, reading aloud, online tournaments (assuming you have a Nintendo Switch Online subscription), optional emails sent to your inbox which record your family's brain training progress, plus a host of other activities including playing piano and a Dr. Mario-style pill-drop game.
What’s interesting is that the very first feature shown in the reveal trailer immediately excludes Switch Lite owners – that version of Switch doesn’t feature an IR sensor. You’ll obviously be able to throw your finger shapes on that system with an additional Joy-Con controller connected, but this game is another to join the list of games that don’t work 100% with Switch Lite out of the box.
The game is arguably aiming at a different crowd, though. All told, Brain Training on Switch looks to be targeting exactly the same demographic as the original games. Switch Lite is going in one direction, with a focus on younger gamers looking to replace their 2DS or 3DS. Ring Fit Adventure points towards another group, one closer to the Brain Training crowd, although perhaps with more get-up-and-go (squash granny excepted). Add in Dr Kawashima’s particular brand of sedate brainteasing and Nintendo really have the entire market tied up. With cross-generational pleasers like Animal Crossing on the (new) horizon, in addition to the broad appeal of software already available, it’s hard to deny that Switch is shaping up to improve upon even Wii’s intimidating legacy of inclusion. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again; everyone is invited to your rooftop Switch party, whether you’re hardcore gamer or hardcore granny.
The miraculous ‘Switcharoo’ Nintendo has pulled following the Wii U era still impresses us even as the console enters its third holiday season. Where the Wii cast its net very wide at launch, Switch started out with a laser focus on gamers and how games fit into their modern lifestyles and has steadily expanded from there to encompass an ever-growing audience. The company has created a system to excite a broad spectrum of people and with games like this and Ring Fit Adventure, it's comfortable enough that the 'gamers' are satisfied to bring back the broader stuff.
And, frankly, after having a good break and getting our fill of traditional games, we’re actually genuinely excited to book an appointment with Dr Kawashima again! Our minds could always do with a sharpening and the trailer looks fun. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait quite so long for a house call this time.
How are your memories of Brain Age holding up? And how did it not break into the Top 50 Nintendo DS games list (yet)? Feel free to scribble your answer into the box below and let us know if you’re looking forward to scheduling an examination on your Switch. Don’t worry; we assure the strictest Doctor-Patient-Internet confidentiality...