Nintendo is far from alone in its pursuit of games – or applications if you prefer – that are designed to give that cauliflower-looking organ within your skull a good thrashing, but the company has often done better with that software than most. Now we have the Big Brain Academy series (which began life on Nintendo DS in the wake of the incredible success of Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training) making its return in Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain on Switch. It's plenty brainy, sure, but is it truly as brawny as it should be?
The basic premise of the game is just like any of the other titles in the series in a most basic sense. There are five disciplines of mental agility, all of which act as categories for four ‘exercises’ apiece tasking you with different… tasks.
Whatever you decide to pick, the game encourages you to have a pop at each of the exercises on your own first; you’ll start off in Sprout league and slowly progress up to Super Elite league if you’re good enough, all in a single play session that lasts around 60 seconds. We're very pleased to report that should you get up to said final rank, the game becomes a genuine challenge even for adult players, which we weren't completely expecting. Once your time is up, the distinctly wiggly Dr Lobe will give you a score based on your performance. Correct answers will result in points, but negative answers will result in points deducted, and quite harshly we might add.
This may seem a little cruel at first but it prevents the player from being able to brute force their way to a high score. After all this is Big Brain Academy, not Blatant Buttonmash Academy. In our experiences the scoring system seemed relatively fair, and we’re not just saying that because we managed to score gold on all but two exercises on our first go. It definitely encourages you to think and act quickly, but not at the detriment of getting the answers correct.
And as far as the meat of the game goes, that’s essentially it. There are other ways in which to indulge in the 20 exercises on offer, but to play the game you’ll always come back to them in one way or another. In a full-price retail game we would take umbrage with this fact, but the budget-friendly price tag on Brain vs. Brain definitely makes it easier to swallow. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the tasks are all rather satisfying and even fun, in a very educational sort-of way.
In terms of the other modes in which these ‘minigames’ can be indulged, there’s a fairly straightforward test mode that picks a random exercise from each category and forces you at figurative gunpoint to get on with them. At the end your score from each is totted up and you’re given an overall braininess score which should absolutely not be misconstrued as IQ points. This is a decent way to test yourself on how far you’ve come since starting proceedings, but it’s hardly back-of-the-box stuff.
But you can sit in your room of choice telling yourself that you’re the brainiest bit of homo sapiens sapiens [sic] this side of Swansea, but the real fun is in proving or disproving that with others. The game supports up to four players locally and in essence rapidly becomes a bit of a party game. It’s honestly great fun, and the fact that each player can select their own starting difficulty definitely helps to level the playing field for less experienced brain-users.
It’s not limited to local either, although the execution is quite different. Should you wish, you can take your brain online and battle against the ghosts of Christmas Pas— actually it’s the ghost data of other players. This means there’s no issues with latency — no excuses as to why you’re 40 points behind Kathleen the office worker from Brecon — just good, honest mental slaughter. It’s a shame you can’t play live with friends over the internet, but at the same time what we have is a surprisingly elegant solution.
And whilst it may be of little consequence overall, the presentation is excellent for the most part. You’ll create a little avatar of yourself or the person you’d like to be who will hang out in all your brainy endeavours, and through your time with the game you'll unlock more and more items with which to customise said avatar. The graphics are simply gorgeous throughout the menus as well, but it has to be said that they don’t hold up as well in the exercises themselves. The simpler style is clearly designed to make the important information easier to parse for all age groups, but it really doesn’t mesh as well as perhaps it could have.
Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain is a fun little romp which doesn’t have ideas above its station and presents its brain-teasers in a more lighthearted, rowdier manner than Dr. Kawashima's friendly but sterile style. This isn’t the kind of marriage between gameplay and (for lack of a better term) ‘work’ that you’ll find in Ring Fit Adventure, but it’s a greatly enjoyable and budget-friendly way to keep up the little pitter-patter of grey matter for all ages.