If a WiiWare review can be judged on the sheer amount of notes taken then Brain Challenge deserves an award. We tried hard to fit everything on two sheets of A4 and still failed. While essentially being a copy-cat of Nintendo’s immensely popular Brain Age games; Brain Challenge is a comprehensive package that should not be unfairly written off.
The game begins with a rather irritating sound bite and the appearance of a pretty face. Dr. Hurley, a blonde haired “yummy mummy” starts out with a greeting that varies depending on the time of your Wii clock and quickly moves on with some trivia and a general knowledge quiz. It has no bearing on the actual game and serves more as an ice breaker but it’s clear from the realistic greeting and friendly tone that Gameloft wants you to feel like you are consulting with a real doctor whilst playing Brain Challenge. You’ll even be able to select an alternative doctor later on, allowing the ladies to get some digital eye-candy in the form of Prof. Stevens. Both the doctors have distinctive personalities and while not being a major feature are fairly well executed.
The first thing the doctor wants you to do is to select a Mii profile and quickly complete a set of challenges, known as the “Daily Test”. The “Daily Test” is broken up into a range of activities based upon several categories: logic, maths, memory, visual and focus. Each category has a number of activities designed to tune the focus of that group. For example, logic puzzles are based on completing shapes, maths puzzles will challenge you to finish equations and (a personal favourite) focus puzzles will test you on which ball bounces higher. There are variations on similar themes and while there are enough to keep you coming back it’s doubtful the game will stay fresh for an extensive period of time. Regardless, the activities that are included are genuinely fun and difficult enough to get you thinking.
Sadly some of the activities suffer from a lack of good explanation which means your results can be skewed for the first couple of plays as you try to understand what the game wants you to do as opposed to what your brain can do. Although it’s only an initial hurdle, it’s disappointing more time wasn’t put into the instructions because it’s the only real gripe we have with an otherwise perfectly executed game.
Upon completing your “Daily Test” you will be shown in graphical form how much of your brain you’re currently using and which categories you excelled in. Apparently, here at WiiWare World we only make use of 10% of our brains and our strongest category is logic, making us quite a methodical thinkers. Statistic-fiends are well catered for in Brain Challenge with easy-to-access results that are logged over time. It’s nothing that hasn’t been seen in games of this type before but the commentary from your chosen doctor is a nice addition.
In addition to the “Daily Test” mode there is also a “Stress Test” which takes the same activities from the previous mode but moulds them together in a different way. Essentially the “Stress Test” tries to take your attention away from the questions by overloading the screen with other diversions. The “Wolf & Sheep” test is quite a good example as it places two questions on the screen at once with an overall objective of stopping the wolf from catching up with the sheep. Answering a question correctly on the left side of the screen will slow the wolf down while doing so on the right will speed the sheep up. However get one wrong and there’s mutton on the menu. It’s hard to explain with words what a strain the sheer amount of on-screen activity has on the brain but rest assured we ended up not faring too well in the “Stress Test” (we blame this on the stress of being involved with a world-leading WiiWare review site).
Alongside the standard tests there are also some unlockable modes which aim to help improve your multitasking and physical brain. One such activity is the “Tiger Ride” which challenges you to answer questions whilst controlling a tiger on a bicycle. It sounds ludicrous but it’s a genuine “pat your head, rub your belly” activity as you use the D-pad to select answers while twisting the remote to pedal. Unfortunately the controls feel a tad cumbersome when it deviates from its standard point and click.
Brain Challenge also provides a robust four player mode for those who want it. It mixes up the single player activities into a range of time attack and speed round modes. Whilst the multiplayer is certainly nothing groundbreaking, it is enjoyable in short sessions with family or friends. It’s worth noting that the multiplayer games are all simultaneous and thus require you to own more than one remote if you wish to take advantage of them. Given the game's nature and audience it would have been nice to have seen at least one multiplayer mode that takes advantage of single remote sharing, but it’s a very minor gripe.
The presentation is well considered in Brain Challenge with the bright graphics, inclusion of Miis and some decent electronic tunes. The music can become a bit erratic when you’re trying to think and while it suits the “Stress Test” you wonder why they didn’t choose something a little more soothing for the “Daily Test”.
In all honesty there’s really very little to moan about with Brain Challenge. The puzzles are varied and enjoyable whilst remaining genuinely challenging, the range of modes on offer are interesting but not overwhelming, and the stats are detailed and accurate. However whether or not you should buy a game like this is entirely subjective. Whilst it’s hard to believe games of this type improve the player’s intelligence as much as the hype would have you believe, we do think they can provide a refreshing mental challenge which can only be beneficial. Of course this is all down to personal prerogative and only you can make the decision as to whether you think this game will be worthwhile or not. Regardless, Gameloft have succeeded in blowing our initially low expectations out of the water once again with yet another “does exactly what it says on the tin” offering. If you’ve never really been in the market for a self-improvement game, Brain Challenge will do nothing to change your mind. On the other hand, if you already count yourself as a hardcore fan of the genre or simply want to jump onto the edutainment bandwagon then Brain Challenge is not only fun but it’s also very cheap.