Review: Brain Age Express: Arts & Letters (DSiWare)

Brain Age: Arts & Letters manages to capture the brain teasing appeal of the retail releases, just in a smaller dose.

Nintendo's Brain Age releases have already been hugely successful for their DS system, so it should come as no real surprise to see them releasing small groups of these exercises as individual DSiWare releases on their fledgling download service. Brain Age Express: Arts & Letters marks the second package of Brain Age challenges and this time focuses more on picture and letter recognition. But is this small group of brain teasers taken directly from the retail releases really worth your time and valuable DSi Points?

The meat of the game is the Training mode, which offers up seven different brain challenges for you to play through. The first three are unlocked when you first begin the game, but you'll have to earn a few stamps in order to unlock the remaining four games. And since these four unlockable modes are easily the most enjoyable ones in the package, you'll have plenty of incentive to do so.

Read Aloud is pretty much what it sounds like. You'll be presented with several pages of reading material that you must try to read through as quickly as possible. The faster you're able to read through the particular selection, the better your speed result will be. Since there is no quiz on the material, you'll have to hold yourself to the honor system as to whether or not you really ready the material or just shoot for a super-fast time.

Word Scramble is also fairly self-explanatory and presents you with a group of letters that are rotating around in a circular motion. You have to unscramble the letters to find out what word they form. While this starts out quite easy with only four letters, the increasing number of letters, not to mention more difficult hidden words, becomes more difficult as you progress through the challenge. Once again time is the main grading factor in this exercise.

Photo Recall will present you with a photo or group of photos on the left screen and you'll then have to choose the photo that you last saw from a group of photos on the right screen. This is quite easy at first, but soon the game will begin to put up mirror images and you'll have to make sure you choose the correct version of the photo in which things are facing in the same direction as they were in the original photo.

Word Attack is an exercise that requires you to memorize words that are quickly flashed on the left screen. You'll then have to remember the words and correctly spell them out on the right screen. You can also unlock a Space version of this game that will place a spaceship at the bottom of the left screen. Words will then quickly flash at the top of the screen and then turn into black blocks that will begin to descend towards your space ship; you'll have to quickly spell them out on the right screen in order to shoot the individual letters in each word down before they crash into your ship. This is another exercise than can get very hectic when you begin to have multiple words popping up at once.

Piano Player is probably the most enjoyable of the challenges in this package and offers up a fairly tricky exercise. You'll be presented with a small piano keyboard complete with properly-labeled notes on your right touch screen. You'll then see a set of red arrows that will progress along a piece of sheet music on the left screen. When the arrows hit a particular note on the staff, you must attempt to play that note on the piano. The more you stay in tempo and rhythm, the more points you'll score. The songs start off quite easy, with simple tunes like "Home on the Range", but soon they'll become much more intricate and will require you to really pay attention to both screens in order to successfully play your way through the various tunes. As you earn stamps, you'll be able to unlock newer and more challenging tunes to play.

Meet and Greet is another challenge that will require you to really pay attention and memorize certain criteria in a short amount of time. You'll be presented with a person's face along with their occupation and name. You'll have to quickly memorize what their face looks like along with their personal information. You'll then be quizzed on various pieces of information as you go along. The game will constantly introduce you to new people and you'll have to make sure you're paying attention, especially when the game begins to introduce you to multiple people at once. You'll find out just how much you pay attention to trivial things by taking on this challenge.

Virus Buster isn't really a brain challenge, rather more of a relaxation game to give your brain a rest after all of your brain training for the day. Once you've earned a stamp for the day, you can then take on what is basically a slight variation of the Dr. Mario game. You'll be presented with varying amounts of viruses and you must then carefully position the multi-colored capsules in order to form vertical or horizontal rows of four like colors. Your goal is to eradicate all of the viruses in each stage. There's nothing really new here if you've already played the Dr. Mario series of games, but it's still a nice diversion once you've finished taking on the game's other challenges.

To add a little variety to the package, Nintendo has also tossed in a group of exercises called Themes, which involve various tasks: from acting out scenes from an imaginary movie, to having to draw out specific objects assigned you by the game. The acting challenges allow you to use the DSi system's built-in camera and microphone to input your answers, and the game will even allow you to save your creations to the DSi system's SD card for later viewing via the slide show option. The downside to these themed challenges is that there are only seven of them and, once completed, there's little reason to come back to them.

The game also offers up a wealth of Brain Age quizzes and extra options to enhance the overall experience should you choose to take advantage of them. You can do everything from chart your progress using the Graph function, to viewing the various Theme Albums or even comparing your brain age to other users who have a Brain Age Express profile on your DSi system. You can even change the pen type you use to write with or design your own customized stamp if you're feeling adventurous.

When it comes to the audio/visual presentation, you certainly won't find a lot of flashy visuals or orchestrated musical tracks in this Brain Age Express package - but that's not what these games are about anyway. They're about creating a simple and easy-to-use interface to execute the many brain teasing exercises the program offers up. Sure, you'll get a cute little animation or photo from time to time, but the simple visual layout and subtle musical presentation function perfectly together and are more than adequate for the type of gaming experience offered up here.

Conclusion

Much like the first Brain Age Express DSiWare release, Brain Age Express: Arts & Letters once again manages to offer up a small sampling of brain training exercises from the retail title in a more condensed DSiWare package. If you already own the Brain Age retail releases, you've probably already experienced much of what this title has to offer, but if you've ever been curious about the series or just want something you can kill a little time with, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better opportunity to do so than the one found in this DSiWare release. While Brain Age Express: Math was a good release, this package just feels a bit more well-rounded than its predecessor and ultimately offers up a slightly more enjoyable gameplay experience.