Review: Brain Challenge (DSiWare)

Make your grey matter

The DS is rightly lauded for introducing many new gamers to the fold, and it’s pretty much single-handedly created the “brain training” genre - whether that’s a good thing or not likely depends on whether you’ve played more than three games on your DS in the past four years. Gameloft already had a crack at the genre when they released Brain Challenge on DS in 2008, but now they’ve resurrected it for the DSiWare service complete with DSi features.

Straight from the get-go, Brain Challenge features crisp, smooth presentation, with two very nice-looking doctors (one of whom bears a striking resemblance to a certain member of NL staff…) taking you by the hand and introducing you to the challenge in the game’s title: to use more than 10% of your brain. Of course, we all know that “we only use 10% of our brains” is a complete fallacy, here it functions as a harmless “brain score” in much the same way as Brain Training’s brain age and Big Brain Academy’s brain weight, but all the same it genuinely makes you feel smarter over time – a key part of any similar title’s success.

In terms of seriousness, Brain Challenge sits neatly between both of Nintendo’s intellectual properties, with games ranging from physical equations to calculating weights. There’s five main categories each containing six exercises, as well as three further categories containing three games each, and all games have three difficulty levels. Calculating the amount of content available here is rather strenuous on the old brain in its own right, but there's around 100 available exercises including the different difficulties of each game: not too shabby for your 800 DSi Points.

Of the games on offer here, a surprisingly high number of them are good fun, although the initial tests including “spot the difference” and “join the dots” don’t get it off to an auspicious start. One of the most enjoyable games comes later on, and sees you solving simple maths and logic puzzles to help a sheep escape a hungry wolf, an exercise which - although very fun - does seem highly unlikely to help you in your daily life. Aside from that it’s your standard puzzles based on shapes, sizes, colours, counting and other things we’re all probably quite adept at understanding by now, but presented in a slick and often tricky set of games that manage to keep you playing to beat your high score or unlock a new feature.

As with all good brain training games, you’re given an evaluation right off the bat. Starting off nice and slowly by creating a profile (accompanied by your signature and a pleasant photo from the DSi’s camera) you dive into your first Daily Test, which gives you simple exercises to estimate how much of your brain is being put to good use. As you repeat your daily tests, you unlock further exercises and even some extra bonuses, including a doodle pad and a music creation area that all help to de-stress you after all that brain straining.

In fact, stress is one thing that Brain Challenge handles very differently to its Nintendo-developed brethren. Opening the dedicated “stress test” sees you tackling similar problems but with a series of distractions, including solving sums whilst being berated by a balding man, defending cheese and calculating physical problems and other frankly bizarre combinations. It seems odd for a game to stress you out intentionally, and it’s debatable whether it has any real purpose, but it’s almost certainly the most original part of Brain Challenge – though that’s damning with faint praise.

We’ve all seen countless games like this over the DS’s lifespan, and although this title’s DSi features are very nice – your profile photo shows up in quite a few games, and there’s the ability to snap photos and doodle on them too – it’s hard to escape the fact it’s been seen before. In fact, drawing on your photos is built into the DSi itself, and is even implemented better there, so Brain Challenge loses another point for originality. Most of the puzzles are just variations on exercises from other brain games, and the game’s most significant addition to the formula – Stress Test mode – has probably even less scientific merit than the brain percentage score the game hands out after each test.

Conclusion

Like Gameloft’s previous DSiWare releases, Brain Challenge certainly isn’t short on content, and in terms of presentation it rivals the quality of many DS games available on store shelves, but it’s just a shame that so much of what’s available here has been seen before – most notably, in fact, in the Brain Challenge games on WiiWare and DS. What Brain Challenge does, it does very well – it’s just a shame it’s pretty much all been done before.