i had played and thoroughly enjoyed brain age and brain age 2 on DS, so i was looking forward to trying out the two brain age express games that came pre-installed on my DSi XL, especially since they contain new activities. i tried out brain age express: math first and found it to be much more enjoyable and unique than reviews, such as this one from nintendolife.com, suggested.
the game is immediately familiar to anyone who has played either brain age title. the interface, art, music, and overall aesthetic, are consistent with the other two games, but fans will notice small tweaks here and there, such as to the music. this iteration includes 7 training exercises and 5 test modes, compared to the 9 training and 5 test of the original game. the 12 exercises in this game are fairly evenly split between the math-oriented exercises of the original and its sequel, with another 3 new exercises rounding out the list. as with the rest of the series, many of the games include a second, harder difficulty.
of the three new games, “multitasker” is very similar to my least favorite exercise of the original, “head count”, which tasks you with keeping track of the number of people entering and exiting a house, although in this case you also have to do sums at the same time. however, the other two are much more worthwhile. “sum totaled” has you adding an increasingly full screen of groups of numbers, and “by the numbers”, has you keeping track of a sequence of numbers trying to spot ones that match the two conditions, such as multiples of 7 or include the number 3. the former is a particularly noteworthy addition, as its hard mode provides the closest thing to an actual game that the series has seen. in this mode you encounter multiple stages with “enemies” of sums that have unique behaviors, for example ants and dragons, and reveal and hide their numbers in different patterns. the “boss battles” are entertaining, and doing sums hasn’t been this viscerally entertaining since the classic number munchers. the game also includes “virus buster”, the touch-based version of dr. mario that was included in brain age 2.
a satisfyingly expanded “greatest hits” version of the brain age series would’ve been a treat enough, but the game scores by providing two new experiences as well. the first of these is rooted in the drawing exercises in the original two titles. whereas in those you could see the creations of others who were also sharing your game card, in this game it’s a separate mode and you can have random guests take a stab at showing off their drawing skills. the interface is simple yet effective, and over the holidays my family got a kick out of seeing how bad our collective drawing skills were, and it was fascinating to see how similar or dissimilar our interpretations were. this game adds two additional creativity-inducing (and presumably prefrontal cortex exercising) modes. the first takes advantage of the DSi camera and has you taking a picture of “acting” an event, such as failing a test, and in the other you read lines from a melodramatic script. the acting category was a great addition, and this, along with the stupid fun i had with the DSi camera app, has made me really appreciate the entertainment value in pulling faces.
the second new experience was the challenge mode, something that other reviews barely touch on. unlocked after first reaching a brain age of 20, the challenge mode will definitely spark a love-hate relationship. there are ten challenges presented in sequence, and each is a task such as finishing an exercise in 30 seconds. all of the challenges are based on the training and test exercises, although since they exceed the “rocket” level (i.e. highest scoring) requirements of the exercises many of them are “nintendo” hard and will have you pulling your hair out, especially since you can only have one complete attempt a day (although as a tip remember that you can press start to exit out of the exercise and retry, since the game only allows one full attempt a day but as many retries as you want). this mode also sneaks in two new variations to existing exercises that are fun and would’ve been great new additions to the daily exercise regime if they had been included as hard difficulties you could play at any time instead of only within the challenge mode.
it will take you 30 days to unlock everything the game offers, but it may take you longer to complete all ten levels of the challenge mode. unlike the other DSi express games, this is far from being a slimmed down version of the brain age games, and ignoring it does a huge disservice to the great new experiences this iteration provides. if you’re as big a fan of the other two brain age titles as i am you’ll find a lot to love here. i’m sorely tempted to let this entry take the place of the original in my greatest games of all time list, but much as i appreciated the addition of the challenge mode, my love-hate relationship with it was just a little too strong for me to give this game the advantage. i’m already starting to have nightmares since i suspect that kawashima’s upcoming 3DS “demon” training title will have similar levels of pain. it will also be interesting to see how brain age express: arts and letters pans out. one of the things i most enjoyed about this title is how snappy the games are, so much as i like exercising the other side of my brain, i’m a bit leery, especially since i suspect that the challenge mode of that game will be significantly more frustrating and based on luck. we’ll see!
don’t ignore these brain age express: math links:
– i’ve created my first FAQ ever! check out my comprehensive guide to the challenge mode
– rundown of all the exercises at gamefaqs
– iwata asks interview on nintendo.co.uk
– and just for fun, entertaining swedish brain age 2 commercial