Monday, September 10, 2007

Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes a Day! review

Okay, time to get crackin' on this review then! I can hear Contact and Brothers in Arms calling my name... "Play us, PsychoDuck... Play us..."

Before the release of Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day, I doubt many people could even imagine a game that did so much to improve your mind! But now, two years and 8.61 million copies sold later, the Brain Age name has become a worldwide phenomenon. What better way to follow up such an amazing title than with a sequel? Nintendo has done just that, in the form of Brain Age: More Training in Minutes a Day! Despite being released half a year later, Brain Age 2 has already sold more than half as many copies as it's predecessor! Since being released in Japan late 2005, more than 5.3 million copies of the software have flown off of shelves. Is Brain Age 2 really worth 5.3 million sales? Can it possibly measure up to the ground-breaking original title?

In a word: Yes.

The premise of Brain Age 2 alone is brilliant. Under the guidance of Dr. Ryuta Kawashima's disembodied head (Don't stare, he can smell fear), users go through several tests designed to activate long-forgotten parts of your brain, primarily the frontal lobe. Activities range from keeping track of who's in what position in a race to giving change during a sale to playing a virtual piano.

In the aforementioned race-themed game (Titled "Memory Sprint"),you have to keep track of the black racer in a marathon. He will be repeatedly passed by grey characters. Every now and then, he'll break into a sprint and pass several racers. Then, he'll drop back again, then sprint, fall behind, and so forth. During this hectic marathon, you have to keep track of exactly what position the black racer is in. He always starts in first, but he could wind up anywhere from second to twelfth at the finish line. It's far, far harder than it sounds. It's where I personally need the most improvement!

Memory Sprint

In the change-giving activity (Titled "Change Maker"), you play the role of a salesperson, repeatedly carrying out transactions at breakneck speed. The goal is to give the customer the exact change for their purchase as quickly as possible. My saleswoman sister is sure to totally wreck me in this game...

Change Maker

The virtual piano game (Titled, quite simply, "Piano Player") doesn't at all require any musical prowess. All you have to do is hit the keys in time with the sheet music scrolling by on the opposite screen. The main beat is automatic, you merely have to hit the prominent notes.

Piano Player

As you can see from the above screenshots, the DS is held sideways when playing Brain Age 2. This way, the touchscreen is easily available for your writing hand to interface with. Don't worry, lefty support is included. Although, there is a slight problem with the southpaw control scheme. I myself am a lefty, and each time the game loads up, it defaults to the right-handed setting. In the original version, it would default to the handedness of the most recent player, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. Little more than a minor annoyance, but still, it's something that shouldn't be an issue at all. I mean come on, Shigeru Miyamoto himself is a lefty! Nonetheless, there are no other issues with the lefty control scheme (Except all the screenshots online are from righties, but oh well).

That isn't to say there are no problems with the control scheme overall, though. Quite often, the game will misinterpret handwriting input. For example, if in Sudoku you input a 6, it will sometimes misunderstand and register it as a 0, which doesn't end up doing anything at all. And in some other activities which require writing, it can be pretty finicky with the "E"s and "G"s. Once you learn the quirks of the handwriting recognition, you can figure out how to get around them. But, like the lefty problem, this shouldn't even be an issue at all. I think the handwriting recognition was actually better in the first game!

As for the more frivolous things such as graphics and sound, it's never anything great at all. The graphics take the word "simplistic" to a whole new level, and the only music is the same stuff you hear in elevators and automated phone services. But, none of this is really necessary in a title such as Brain Age. Polygons and 3D effects mean nothing in a game meant to beef up your brain. Although Dr. Kawashima is rendered pretty well, nothing else audible or visual is really worth talking about.

Speaking of the doctor himself, Ryuta will respond to many things said to him on the main menu. Try saying "Cilantro" and watch him cringe! It's also very easy to amuse, it seems, since I see his laughing response more than anything else. A nice little touch, really.

But, despite the graphics, audio and slight handwriting recognition issues, Brain Age 2 is still a great, solid, and above all, fun, piece of software. Beating your records in any game gives a great sense of accomplishment, and the Sudoku serves as a pleasant distraction whenever you grow tired of brain testing. A great title, and definitely worth both your twenty dollars and your "Minutes a Day"!

OVERALL: 8.0/10

The Duck Has Spoken.

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