Review: Big Brain Academy (DS)

A bit of a mental lightweight

There's something intrinsically addictive about the whole genre of 'brain training' games. Implicitly we all want to better ourselves to a greater or lesser degree. By being told just how much a success or a failure we are at intelligence-related tests, there is definitely a major hook in this whole genre of games that makes them nearly irresistible to anyone out there who obsesses over their intelligence or how they might be perceived by the outside world. Perfect for gamers then…

Let it be stated here then that Big Brain Academy is an addictive game... a very addictive game, in fact. Although it only consists of what amounts to a total of fifteen different mini-games, the games themselves are all intelligently designed with a certain charm to the various animals, monsters and fruit that are used as avatars in the various challenges. In fact, when you first play the game you will most likely find yourself being distracted at times by the funny little creatures that wink, grin, or pull a face every so often as you race against time to achieve a certain objective.

Though fifteen mini-games may not sound like a lot, as far as the test mode of the game is concerned, fifteen is plenty to provide a good amount of variety to tests, each of which contains one challenge from each of the Think, Memorize, Analyze, Compute and Identify categories. Herein actually lies one of the addictive 'hooks' of Big Brain Academy – a hook which on one hand makes the game extremely addictive but, on the other, shows something of a flaw in the game's 'brain weighing' system.

Say for instance you score 1200g. This score is a cumulative score taken from the combined total score of five randomly picked mini-games from each of the aforementioned five categories. Because the mini-games are chosen at random, in any given test you may be given a set of games you are extremely proficient at; a set of games you really struggle with; or any combination in-between. Generally you will find you get something of a mixture or the two extremes, meaning your scores can therefore fluctuate quite wildly. Though obviously with any game of this nature, the more you play it the better you will become, there is also an element of 'the more you play it, the greater the chances of getting a favourable combination of games in the test'. This is certainly true with the memory-related games especially, as they are all of a very different nature and so there is every chance your flash memory will be weaker than your memory for patterns, and so each time a test brings up a game you're weaker in, your overall score will drop.

The point then is that the testing system is not only slightly suspect in its methodology (and it must be said, its scoring system), but it makes it very difficult to track progress. While you may be able to take a test any number of times in a day (unlike the 'Brain Training' series), the scores you receive come up way too fast, and aren't logged in the game system so the test system is actually a very poor method of marking your progress.

The only way you can mark your progress then, is through practice mode which, as you would no doubt expect, allows you to play through each of the fifteen mini-games to your heart's content on one of three difficulty settings. Gold, silver, bronze and platinum medals are awarded depending on your scores, and at least in practice mode, your highest scores are recorded and logged as a mark of progress.

Here seems a good moment to mention scoring. It would seem that scoring is very much weighted behind getting everything 100% correct. While a mix of skill and speed will increase your score, the importance that the game places on getting everything correct will at times mean that the odd slip of the stylus or the odd unrecorded tap on the touch screen can really ruin your day. Big Brain Academy is quite merciless in its approach to scoring: get things wrong and your score will drop, at times quite significantly from your average. The chances of making even a single mistake in a test of five mini-games is actually remarkably high – especially when you're under the pressure of time. If you're a perfectionist, the very harsh nature of Big Brain Academy's scoring system will certainly grate with you. Whether you like it or not, you will find yourself repeating tests over and over, always trying to beat your previous brain weight, but rarely succeeding.

For the more adventurous of you, there is even a nifty little multiplayer mode. Not content with trying to better your own brain weight score, you can actually take on up to seven other players in multiplayer mode via wireless, or failing that the game has space for up to four different players to 'register' with the academy and so rate themselves on the same DS. Given the game's addictive qualities, you will no doubt quickly find takers for those other three slots on your game's memory to compete and see who has the biggest brain.

Conclusion

Big Brain Academy is not a bad little game, all things considered. Take away the problems with the marking of progress and scoring and you have a nicely designed, addictive game with a certain charm about it that some of the more 'soulless' games of its type lack. A better designed test system would certainly score the game higher – as too would a wider variety of challenges – but for what it is, Big Brain Academy definitely warrants a score above average.