Review: Brain Age Express: Math (DSI)

Brain Age Express: Math
Genre: Educational
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 04/05/09


Brain Age is one of those “way out of left field” successes that I don’t think ANYONE expected to do as well as it did. “Educational” games generally don’t do well because, hey, most of them are boring and focus on educating instead of gaming.Brain Age, however, actually managed to balance its attempts at educating and training the player with some actual gameplay that was fun and challenging, as well as a simple tracking of progress that allowed the player to feel as though they were actually accomplishing something in their daily training tasks. Plus, it’s also enjoyable when a game tells you you’re smart. Anyway, with the release of the DSi, Nintendo has seen fit to also provide the market with a downloadable Brain Age title that’s specifically focused on mathematics and comes complete with DSi-specific features. It’s not a bad idea in theory, and if you’re a fan of Brain Age or math in general the appeal is definitely there, but it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea for a few reasons.

If you’ve somehow missed out on Brain Age up to this point, here’s how this works: you’ll be dealing with the disembodied head of Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, who claims to be the inventor of this product, which supposedly trains your brain into shape in minutes each day. He’ll guide you through a daily test of your brain age, followed by providing you various tests to complete that help further train your brain each day. In the case of this version of Brain Age, all of the trials and tests are math-based, meaning you’ll be adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing your way to a stronger brain, although there are plenty of instances where you won’t be dealing with “math” so much as “numbers”. That all said, Brain Age Express: Math doesn’t really mind if you don’t do especially well at the challenges presented, and while you might not get a good brain age rating, Dr. Kawashima is more than happy to reassure you that you can always try again until you get it, and if you keep at it long enough, you eventually will.

Visually, Brain Age Express: Math looks about the same as it ever did, which means you’ll get a disembodied polygon head guiding you through an experience that feels an awful lot like drawing numbers on a whiteboard. The presentation is generally meant to feel “scientific”, and it pretty much succeeds at this. The visuals aren’t anything spectacular, and most of the game consists of white backgrounds and various bits of text here and there, but it still manages to have a personality all its own through little things like the aforementioned talking head, numbers being scribbled out, and other little things that are inconsequential on their own but work well together. Aurally, Brain Age Express: Math is fine, too; the music is cute and sounds like, well, video game music, and the various sounds fit what they’re supposed to be associated with fine. There’s no voice work in the game, of course, so the good doctor just makes bibibibibibi noises whenever he talks, but that’s not too surprising considering how many different things he can say at any given time, and the game is no poorer for its absence.

As you’d expect, since Brain Age Express: Math is a math-based edutainment title, the gameplay mostly involves drawing or saying numbers to answer questions and solve problems. You’ll see some sort of problem or question on the normal DSi screen, and then you’ll have to provide an answer, either by writing it out on the touch screen or by saying it into the microphone. Everything is based around numbers in some form or fashion, so you might have to perform subtraction puzzles, or count how many of a specific number is on screen, or remember a series of numbers, or what have you. As you perform the tests you’ll be graded on how many things you get right and how quickly you complete the test, meaning you’ll have a better result if you get through a two-minute test in a minute with no errors than if you take two minutes and screw up a lot. The idea is that as you consistently perform these tests, day after day, you’ll train your brain to be more active, and as a result, reduce the time needed to complete the tests, which should, in theory, improve your overall brain activity. When you take these tests normally, the game evaluates the time you took to complete the exercise and how many errors you made, but while testing your brain age, it only evaluates the time you took to complete the exercise or your successes alone, depending on the test. The results of your tests, when completed on their own, are saved in the records of the game, and you’ll be able to see a graph of your performance across multiple days, allowing you to track your overall progress over long periods of time. Each day, when you train your brain you’ll be asked to stamp that day on the calendar indicating completion of that day’s events, and on certain days you’ll be offered presents for successfully completing the training. The presents are mostly just new training tests, mind you, but they’re still nice unlockables for diligence all the same. You’ll also occasionally unlock new features, like the ability to change themes and design new stamps for your calendar, which, again, are nice little things for the game to offer you.

Now, it’s been documented in more than a few locations that Brain Age may well not actually DO anything for your brain in the long run, though playing the different mini-games gets your brain thinking, which is good enough for the most part. However, if you already own the first two Brain Age products, the only significant addition to this version, aside from its focus on mathematics, is the fact that you can take a picture of yourself and attach it to your profile, which, while cute, isn’t enough to make this worth owning if you own the first two games, as all of the problems here come with those games as well. So, in other words, the things you write don’t always register properly (a “4” could be a “9”), the voice recognition is spotty, that sort of thing. There’s also only so much to do with the game if you’re not a big math fan, as that’s all there is to this; you’ll do a whole bunch of math problems, turn it off, then turn it on the next day and do a whole bunch more math problems. The game makes this fun, to a point, but unless you want to do every single test multiple times per day, there’s not a lot to really do with it in one sitting.

Frankly, Brain Age Express: Math is a fine download if you like math and/or don’t own the actual DS games, as it’s a pretty full-featured release from the series that contains enough to make it interesting. The various tests are challenging enough to stay interesting for a while, there’s an actual effort from the game to make you want to come back to it over and over, and it’s a cute time-waster if nothing else that makes you feel smart when you’re done. The same problems that exist in other games exist in this one, there’s no reason to own it if you own other Brain Age games, and if you’re not a fan, this will do absolutely nothing for you. For everyone else, though, Brain Age Express: Math is worth the download, as it’ll keep you entertained for a little while and it makes you feel smart in the process.

The Scores:
Game Modes: GOOD
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: ABOVE AVERAGE
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: GREAT
Balance: CLASSIC
Originality: BAD
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal: GOOD
Miscellaneous: GOOD
FINAL SCORE:ENJOYABLE.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Brain Age Express: Math is generally a solid, worthwhile download if

1.) you like math,
2.) you like games that tell you that you’re smart,
3.) you like Brain Age as a concept, and/or
4.) you don’t own any Brain Age titles.

It’s simple, fun, gives you plenty of reasons to keep coming back to it, and is generally reasonably well designed and implemented, which will, for most, justify its eight dollar price tag. Some may be put off by the fact that the content here is mostly collected from the prior two DS Brain Age titles, the fact that the flaws from those games regarding handwriting and speech recognition are still present, or the fact that there’s nothing to do but math puzzles, and that’s understandable. Anyone who’s fine with a little educational gaming, however, will probably have plenty of fun in small doses with Brain Age Express: Math, and if it turns out that the games DO prevent Alzheimer’s, then you’ll feel pretty good about yourself later, won’t you?

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