Review: Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training: How Old is Your Brain? (Wii U eShop / DS)

Brain food

It seems like only yesterday that we got Game Boy Advance games on the Wii U Virtual Console, but now DS games have also joined the party. Curiously enough, Nintendo has chosen not to start off with one of their classic franchises, like Mario or Zelda, but has instead opted to go with one of their best-selling titles, the original Brain Training (Brain Age for those in North America). Even more surprising is the fact that the title has launched for the stunning price of absolutely nothing — though it's important to stress that this won't last forever.

As you might be aware, Brain Training is not really what you would call a traditional videogame, but rather a collection of small tests to keep your mind sharp and your reactions quick, which arguably helps you when playing other games. The main mode for doing this is the Daily Training (AKA Brain Age Check), which the game recommends you to play once every day. This gives you three random tests in a row and, depending on your performance, will give you the estimated "age" of your brain. Naturally, the goal is to get that age lower by getting better and better at the test.

Now, the Nintendo experts will be quick to point out that Brain Training was one of the few DS games that used the "book mode" during gameplay. Instead of holding the DS upright, with both screens above each other, like for most games, you instead flipped it sideways, which, like its name implies, made it somewhat resemble a book. The game still essentially works the same way, although now the screens are simply displayed next to each other on the GamePad, neatly covering the whole screen.

When you've done your Daily Training, you can also check out the Quick Play mode, where you can play nine short tests on their own. Although you might expect otherwise, these tests are — with the exception of one — not actually the same as those that appear during the Daily Training, although they are mostly similar in theme. These range from rapid-fire calculations to reading tests, where you're tasked with reading a block of text out loud as quickly and error-free as possible. Not all of these are immediately available however, you'll have to keep doing Brain Age Checks to get all of them.

With a few exceptions, almost all of the tests make use of the DS (And now the Wii U's) touch screen and microphone, requiring you to draw numbers or read out words, for example. Unfortunately, this was a relatively early DS title, so the recognition is not exactly perfect — numbers have to be drawn very precisely and words have to be pronounced very cleanly, or the game will fail to recognize them and ask you to try again.

This can cause annoying moments where you know you're doing things right, yet the game will reject your answers, eating up precious time and lowering your score for a completely unfair reason. The voice tests are especially aggravating for people who don't speak English as their native language, as even the slightest accent can throw the game off. Luckily, tests that require speech during the Daily Training can be completely skipped if you so desire.

Although it seems like more of a bonus, another meaty section of the game is a Sudoku mode, where you can pick one of a number of Sudoku puzzles to try and solve. It's not really a training exercise, but your best time for each puzzle will be saved, should you ever get the urge to try it again. The amount of puzzles is somewhat limited compared to the multitude of Sudoku games available as downloads on Nintendo platforms, but there's still enough to keep you entertained for a while.

Stylistically the game is rather simple, with very basic-looking menus and tests, and mostly rather short pieces of music. Of course, this fits perfectly with the type of game it is, so it ends up working quite well.

Conclusion

Upon its original release, Brain Training became massively popular, selling millions of copies and getting tons of people to buy a DS for the sole prospect of brain exercises. Nowadays there are plenty of similar titles available, so it's somewhat hard to see what made this so special. When it doesn't decide to screw you over with its lack of writing and speech recognition skills, it's a fairly capable game to waste a few minutes per day on, but there is no denying that its sequels improved upon the formula.