Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2006-04-19 Nintendo DS Puzzle E (Everyone) Nintendo

My copy of Brain Age arrived in a package with a chocolate-flavored Power Bar, a Gatorade instant mix, a brain-shaped stress ball, a gym tag and a towel. Included was a sheet with my exclusive membership to the Mental Gym, courtesy of Nintendo.

Roughly three weeks away from the official release, would I have enough time to see results? Read on and find out.

My first "workout" served to acess my current mental acuity. The Stroop Test shows you the words "black", "red", "blue" and "yellow" appearing on the screens in any of those four colors and in random positions. The purpose is to say the color that they?‚…re written in and ignore the word altogether. Let me tell you, it wasn't good. Since the closer to 20 the better, at a disappointing 48 years of age, my brain apparently needed some serious help. Fortunately, I had the tools, so I started a strict daily exercising program on my DS.

Brain Age can?‚…t really be classified as a game. It's a piece of software inspired by Professor Ryuta Kawashima?‚…s (a Japanese neuroscientist) research about brain activity. His research proved that certain reading and mathematic exercises and good impact in stimulating the brain. He is also the avatar hosting the game and your own personal brain trainer.

The software is composed of several activities that take only a few minutes to complete. These activities include reading a text out loud, counting syllables in random sentences or solve simple math problems in either groups of 20 or 100. More complicated exercises and a "Hard" difficulty mode become available as you complete a certain number of training sessions.

"Low to High" requires you to memorize a series of numbers in different positions, then tap the positions in order on the touch screen. "Head Count" begins with a number of people in a house, then people begin entering and leaving, and at the end you have to guess how many are still inside. "Triangle Math" has you calculate two semi-totals and a final answer starting with three numbers (and it includes negatives) but you can only write down the final result. "Time Lapse" shows you two clocks and you have to write down how much time has passed between the first and the second. "Voice Calculation" is like Calculations x20 but includes divisions and instead of writing, you say the answer.

The random drawing sessions are quite fun and unexpected. You might be in the middle of moving through menus and the doctor will ask you to draw three things, but without showing you an actual likeness. These usually catch me by surprise and let me tell you, it's a bit awkward to draw Henry the VIII with no reference! Even something simple like a rhino turned out to be a hipopotamus (I tend to confuse both a bit). I won't even mention my attempts at Mona Lisa, the Sphynx or a paramecia. Anyway, after you're done drawing your picture, the doctor shows you the real one, telling you what you should have focused on. If more players use the same DS, he will also show you how other people did. The results are often giggle inducers.

Another surprise element that the doctor likes to throw at you are questions such as "What did you have for dinner/lunch/breakfast yesterday?" or "What was the first thing you did/said this morning?". Then some days later, he will ask you again that same question and compare answers. Sneaky! I usually don't remember what I ate two days ago, let alone last week. It keeps you on your toes though.

Brain Age actually tracks your progress through a series of charts for each exercise and for your brain age changes. If you actually do it everyday, you will notice right away how being tired, not sleeping well or trying to do the test in a noisy environment can affect it. Different hours of the day also have a slight influence in your performance.

Up to four users can have their profiles on a single game card, giving them the chance to compare graphs and drawings.

Brain Age plays like a book though, you hold your DS sideways, which is a little uncomfortable on the wrist after a while. The advantage is that you can pick if you're right-handed or left-handed. The word and writing recognition are quite good, but it fails a little at times. In the Stroop Test, saying "blue" several times in a row to the word blue written in blue wasn?‚…t working, while sometimes in Calculations the game would "guess" the number before I was even done writing it, turning out in something completely different from what I had written. Maybe it's just my handwriting and the way I lift the stylus at certain times, but my 5's, 7's, D's and K's constantly give me a hard time during exercises.

Aside from all the exercising, you can chill with a Sudoku puzzle (and there are 100 of them). I never really got into Sudoku, and now I quite like it (mostly because now I understand how to solve the puzzles). Basic and Intermediate only, since I still can't figure out the reasoning behind the Advanced puzzles.

Although this isn't your typical game, you will find yourself coming back to it for competitive purposes, either to beat your friend's scores or improve your own. Brain Age is a great workout for the gray matter that lets you flex those mental biceps and improve your overall brain activity in the long run. As for my personal results after three weeks, I was standing at around 26-28. After a month and a half, I went down to 21. Much better than 48, isn't it?

There is no excuse for me not to go to the gym anymore. The Brain Gym, that is. The other type of exercise is another story.

Special thanks to Allison Fors and Nintendo for providing a copy of this title.

Brain Age Unlockables

  • Get 1 stamp on the calendar to unlock Low to High.
  • Get 2 stamps on the calendar to unlock Syllable Count.
  • Get 3 stamps on the calendar to unlock Head Count.
  • Get 5 stamps on the calendar to read brain training tips in Other Options.
  • Get 7 stamps on the calendar to design your own stamp in Other Options.
  • Get 9 stamps on the calendar to unlock Hard difficulty for Head Count.
  • Get 11 stamps on the calendar to unlock Hard difficulty for Calculations x100.
  • Get 13 stamps on the calendar to unlock Triangle Math.
  • Get 15 stamps on the calendar to unlock Time Lapse.
  • Get 17 stamps on the calendar to unlock Hard difficulty for Triangle Math.
  • Get 20 stamps on the calendar to unlock Voice Calculation.
  • Complete 3 exercises in a day to get a large stamp on the calendar.
  • Say "doctor doctor" on the main menu to see the doctor giggle.
  • Say "glasses glasses" on the main menu to see the doctor move his glasses.
  • Hold Select and tap Graphs on the menu to access the Top 3 Results page
  • Hold Select and tap Brain Age Check on the menu to customize your own brain age test by picking any three exercises.