about a month ago i played through the brain age express: arts & letters, the fourth entry in the brain age series, in order to prepare myself for the 3DS entry, brain age: concentration training. even though i played them practically back to back, concentration training‘s core mode is pretty unique and the game offers enough new supplemental fluff to be enjoyable, for the most part. perhaps unsurprisingly, i got suckered into playing it religiously for the same reasons as the original game: the allure of unlocking new exercises combined with the ability to fool myself into thinking that i’m actually making myself a better person than people who don’t play the game. 😉
as i mentioned in my post on brain age express: arts & letters, the “2-back” and “3-back” mechanics of the photo recall exercises in that game form much of the core in this game, and appears in 3 of the 8 “devilish” (i.e. concentration training) exercises. (see this random review i came across for a more thorough run-down of the various modes and exercises). the other devilish exercises are new, although “devilish mice” is basically a variation of the exercise “head count” (in which you had to count figures that rapidly entered and exited a house), and “devilish pairs” is the familiar game of “concentration” where you have to match pairs of cards laid face down, with misses only counted for flipping a card you’ve already seen and not correctly locating its match.
aside from being new exercises, the unique feature of devilish training is that the difficulties adjust to your performance, so the games are always challenging no matter much you play them. you’re limited to only five minutes with each exercise each day, and you’ll find that you quickly reach your limit and that trying to push yourself to the next higher level can be addicting. this ends up being much more satisfying than simply chasing after a fastest time like in the previous games in the series, and it’s hard to find much to complain about the new mode since the devilish training exercises have a good amount of variety and are consistently challenging.
the game presents a “greatest hits” of previous exercises via two other modes, “supplemental training” and “brain training”. all the exercises that were new in the brain age express titles make an appearance here, so people who didn’t play those two games will suffer less from deja vu. but for the most part the exercises that they’ve recycled here are enjoyable. the game includes achievements in the form of “certificates”, which for these modes basically challenge you to get the “rocket” speed in each exercise. for the most part these challenges are worthwhile, with the main exception being “word attack”, in which you have to remember words and write them down as quickly as possible, due to the slowness of the handwriting recognition. the handwriting recognition seems to work slightly better than previous games in general, but having to wrestle with it while trying to achieve faster times can be quite frustrating.
the other main addition to the “brain age” training mode is a slew of solitaire games, including such well-known variations card games as “klondike”, “spider”, and “golf”. the first two were actually released as touch solitaire on DSiware, so people who bought that game will also find these exercises to be a bit redundant. but along with those games there’s also peg solitaire (move pegs by hopping over adjacent pegs until only one is left), mahjong, and a brand-new vs. CPU game in which you alternate turns to navigate a board trying to capture as many points as possible. i’m not a big fan of solitaire games in general so these modes were just filler to me, but for fans of solitaire these inclusions will be a big bonus on top of the already-solid devilish training mode.
rounding out the package is “relaxation mode”, which features the same brain age version of dr. mario that was included in previous entries, plus “blob blast”, a fantastic touchscreen-based reworking of wario’s woods. “blob blast” would’ve been a great standalone title on DSiware, but here it’s yet another nice bonus to the overall package.
the overall presentation gets a bit of an upgrade, although the exercises themselves keep the clean and not-too-clinical-looking aesthetic. dr. kawashima himself also has a voice actor this time who is suitably reassuring and encouraging, although his canadian accent (most noticeable when he says “sorry!”) ended up being too anomalous for me (not to mention his constantly upbeat attitude) and i had to make use of the much-appreciated option to mute him completely.
overall as a continuation of the brain age series there’s little to complain about, especially if you haven’t played the brain age express titles. “devilish training” is much more enjoyable and frustration-free than i had expected (helped in big part by the daily five-minute limit per exercise), and although quite a few of the exercises are recycled from previous versions, the addition of solitaire games does a good job of rounding out the experience. i could easily continue playing this in order to increase my performance, but other games on my 3DS have been clamoring for attention so i’m going to have to set this aside for now and come back to it later. this is easily one of my favorite games on the system thus far, and i’m guessing other fans of the brain age series will be equally satisfied.
concentrate on these companionable brain age: concentration training links:
– official site
– iwata asks interview with kawashima himself. [he actually exists! and he looks just like he does in the game! minus the horns. ;)]
– celebrity endorsement by a US memory champion who apparently made it up to 30-back! wowza!
– list of unlockables at gamefaqs
– review at nintendolife.com
– entry at metacritic.com