The Amazing Brain Train Review
Posted by Desiree Turner
All aboard, kids!
Back in 2008, indie developer Grubby Games created a collection of cute, quirky mini-games for the PC designed to amuse as well as stimulate your brain. It went on to be chosen as a 2008 PAX 10 winner, and though it did not capture the Audience Choice Award as well, it obviously turned enough heads for an eventual console release to be considered. Teaming up with fellow indie developer NinjaBee, Grubby Games made its WiiWare debut with The Amazing Brain Train!. In this game, you're introduced to Professor Fizzwizzle, your engineer on this little train ride, and the train itself is fuelled by the power of your brain. As demonstrated by the game constantly displaying your results in units of measurement as well as plain old points, the general idea here is to go as far as you can with what fuel your brainmeats can work up. How far will the Amazing Brain Train be able to take you?
Control-wise, this is standard point-and-click fare. Create up to eight separate profiles at the title screen by clicking the 'Change User' button. Once you've got yours named and ready to go, choose between the three different modes: Quest, Test, and Practice. Quest Mode presents you with a map featuring a set of train tracks littered with 17 different animals. Each animal has a circular border around them, and when their borders turn red, those animals are available to present you with quests. When you've decided to take up a quest, the game will present you with one of the available minigames to play at random (initially there are ten, with the other five unlockable via playing minigames in any mode). You can't choose which individual minigame you'd like to play in Quest Mode, though you can click 'Cancel' and then hit the 'Travel!' button again in hopes you'll be given a different minigame to play.
The minigames each fall into one of five categories - Planning, Spatial, Numbers, Memory, and Search. Everyone has their favourite type of brain game, whether it be mazes, number-crunching, or fitting shapes together to make larger shapes, so there will be some you'll like here and some you won't. In each one you'll help the Professor or one of his animal friends to do something by solving a series of ever-more-challenging puzzles. You may have to remember how many monkeys ran into a set of bushes, help the Professor to score home runs or untangle the leashes binding a pack of dogs together. Whatever you wind up doing, each minigame will have you thinking critically. There is no option to choose your difficulty level in this game, nor does it seem to adapt to the player's skill level, so be prepared to have every minigame start out easy and then gradually become more difficult.
In Quest Mode, all of the minigames are timed, and you must do your best to complete as many puzzles as you can before time runs out. Most are controlled by pointing and clicking with the Wii Remote and the A Button, although a couple of minigames (involving moving an animal around to various points on the screen) allow you to use the D-Pad instead, and one game has you leading a creature through a maze with the pointer. Sometimes the pointer gets hung up in parts of the maze, but there are no noticeable control issues otherwise.
How well you perform during a minigame determines how many points you earn as well as how far you travel around the tracks on the map. You're awarded points based on how many puzzles you managed to get through, how quickly you completed them and also how many seconds you had left on the clock when you completed the last puzzle. You may Reset or Skip any puzzle at any time without fear of penalty, but if you submit the wrong answer to a puzzle, you'll be docked points from your end score. Upon completing a quest you're given a new piece of track to add to the map so that you can reach other animals and accept their quests as well; the game will automatically choose the shortest route you're allowed to use according to the terms of the quest, so no worries about wasting time going the wrong way. To an adult, these quests seem as if they were merely tacked on in order to give you some kind of superficial purpose for continuing to play minigame after minigame, but younger children will probably get a kick out of the silliness involved.
Another incentive to keep playing minigame after minigame are the Trophies unlocked during normal gameplay. There are thirty-two in all, and most are fairly easy to rack up, though a few will require practice and patience in order to earn them. Again, adults will feel as if this has been tacked onto the game in order to keep your interest, but the ease at which even kids may earn the more basic Trophies will help encourage them to keep going. View the ones you've collected at any time under 'Achievements' on the main menu, as well as the High Scores list; the game keeps one list for everyone playing the game so that you can easily see how you stack up against Mom, Dad, your siblings or even yourself.
In Test Mode, you're presented with five minigames at random, one from each category. After completing them one by one, your individual scores are combined and you're awarded a letter grade and also told how far your brain power during that particular test has carried the train. It's a little over 21 points to the kilometre in Test Mode so that the game can more easily give you a real-world example of how far you would've travelled every time you complete a test: 6,726 km, for instance, is apparently close to the distance between Tokyo, Japan and Mumbai, India. There's no way to recall the results of prior tests except for your personal best, but the game will keep track of how far your brain has helped you travel overall. If you're not happy with how well you're scoring in Test Mode, or if you're just in the mood to play a specific minigame with no quest strings attached, Practice Mode will help you to work out any kinks. Here you may choose any of the games available to you and have at 'em, either with a time limit (just like in the other modes, for that authentic race-against-the-clock feel) or without, where you just play until you get tired or stuck.
The replay value in this game is all on you. Whether you're attempting to outdo your own score in a particular minigame, making your way through the quests and racking up trophies or hoping to score an A in Test Mode eventually, the game features so little plot and so much in the way of repetitive gameplay that extended play will bore you. By its very nature this game is made to be picked up and put down at any time, so do yourself a favour: play it in short bursts instead of attempting to make it through everything all in one long session.
Presentation-wise, the fonts are crisp, the menus easy to navigate and the overall theme is charming - adorable animals are everywhere in this game, and the Professor and his train are both cutesy enough. The sounds of chirping birds, mooing cows, quacking ducks and of course the whistle of the train as it whooshes along blend together to add some quirky fun to every screen and puzzle. The music is peppy and upbeat, lending a lively background to the game, though mild enough to be unobtrusive when it comes to the minigames themselves, which is a good thing - overpowering music would distract you from the games and throw off your concentration.
Taking cues from other gaming genres in an attempt to keep you hooked, The Amazing Brain Train! is a mildly interesting collection of minigames at best. With its adorable theme, repetitive nature, and simple-to-understand challenges, this game is aimed squarely at kids - the silly quests and easy-to-attain trophies will not be enough to keep adults interested for long. As is common among titles promising to needle your noodle, though this game features 15 different types of puzzle to play, you'll only really enjoy a handful of them: the rest will be a chore to get through. At 600 points, however, it's cheaper than any other option out on the market at the moment, and you'll probably get as much play out of this as you would any other brain-training game.