Brain Quest: Grades 3 & 4
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-10-19 Nintendo DS Educational E (Everyone) EA Games / Planet Moon

With the success rate of most of the brain training, memory building or otherwise educational games released for the DS over the past few years, it's no surprise that another contender would step into the ring to try and claim a slice of the "edutainment" pie. But this newest entry holds arguably more credibility than all of the rest, as the Brain Quest series has achieved massive prior success in book format, with its transition from paperback to digital being the next logical step.

As with the books in the franchise, the video game series of Brain Quest is targeted as specific grade levels, with the first available choice being Grades 3 and 4. Packed with around 6,000 questions, players young and old have the chance to answer questions in six different categories: English, Science, Math, History, Geography and a mixed bag of topics.

There are multiple game modes to choose from, with the two biggest options being Quest Mode and Brain Mode. Where Brain Mode allows you to quickly jump into a question and answer session over any topic of your choosing, Quest Mode then obviously places you in the middle of a quest, as you are led through gameplay by BQ, the talking dog.

During Quest Mode, you'll find yourself tasked with helping 18 zoo employees enhance the zoo's environment, and address any problems that arise with the animal inhabitants therein. Each employee is identified within a certain subject group (Math, English, etc.), and will have a specific piece of the story to offer you, with each bit cleverly fitting into the educational theme. That is, you might find yourself learning about African Geography in order to better design the safari zone of the park, or studying Math in order to determine how large a specific enclosure should be.

Each mission contains two parts. After learning about a particular problem, you will be sent somewhere else in the park to gain a second opinion about the situation, but will have to answer a short set of questions before moving on. This first, smaller quiz section is split into three rounds of five questions each (or 15 questions total), and often comes with a requirement of reaching a certain amount of points per round in order to succeed.

Each question is worth a maximum of 1000 points, with the amount of points decreasing as you take more time to answer each one. Furthermore, with a variety of question types ranging from true/false, matching, multiple choice, fill in the blank, and more, you often run into times when "half credit" is accessible, during such times when you may only correctly match two out of four options, for example.

Once you pass the three round section, you will be given some advice or a general second opinion, and will be sent back to your original path, where you will enter a five round (or 25 questions) section on a different subject in order to complete the task entirely. This five round section is more difficult than the other, as it requires you to answer a certain number of questions correctly in their entirety in order to move on. That is, you can't miss even one part of a matching question and expect to receive credit.

And so the game goes; each of the 18 zoo employees that you talk to will launch you into a separate two-part mission, with points being awarded based on your success, and animals and other decorations serving as bonuses for a job well done. These unlockable decorations must be purchased using the points that you're given throughout the game, and can then be used to decorate the zoo environment itself.

Considering that the game contains 6,000 questions, I am happy to say that the likelihood of repeating a question is quite slim. Furthermore, with the option of playing at either a third or a four grade level separately (along with being able to play with a mixture of the two), the title offers enough replayability and opportunity for growth to keep most players interested for the long haul. What might throw them off, however, is the difficulty of some of the questions.

Being that I'm not familiar with the current educational standards in elementary schools today, my best guess on this one will have to do, but suffice it to say that most 9 and 10 year olds will have more than a hint of difficulty in answering most of the questions here.

While the game does claim to be based around national standards and curriculum, I have to admit that even I (a 22 year old who graduated in the top of my class with an Academic Honors diploma from high school, and who was on the Dean's List in college) had trouble with some of the questions here, in the History department especially. And if I have trouble remembering the first and last names of pilgrims or inventors whose only claim to fame lay hundreds of years in the past, I can only imagine how the game's target audience would fare. Granted, the math and English categories are fairly easy by comparison, but my point remains.

Luckily, if children do find themselves at a loss for inspiration for playing the main game, there are a few more modes to experience as well. The first is a multiplayer mode, which allows players to challenge friends to customizable rounds of questions, even if there is only one DS and copy of the game between them. By implementing a "Scout's honor" mechanic, each player takes turns holding the DS and answering questions, which are then repeated to the next player, with the scores then being compared at the end to find the winner.

Aside from the actual trivia based gameplay in these other modes, there is also a great number of Sudoku options, that includes not only the traditional 9x9 boards, but also helps little ones learn to play the game by including 4x4 and 6x6 grids, with each shape coming with multiple levels of difficulty. This Sudoku mode in and of itself would be worth the price of admission for many, but for others, it's still an appreciated break from the, in some instances, repetitive gameplay system of the main game.

As for the overall look of the game, you can definitely tell this is a children's title. Details are lacking in the human and animal forms in the game, but what the graphics lack in realism they make up for with enough bright colors to make your eyes bleed. And while they're not the best graphics around on the DS today, they do resemble a lot of the newer cartoons found on TV on Saturday mornings, which should be more than enough to draw in youngins' eyes.

Furthermore, the sound department takes on just as simplistic a theme as the graphics, with upbeat, albeit repetitive, instrumental tunes playing throughout, and bright (if noise can be described as such) little sound effects that play when answering particularly difficult questions correctly.

All in all, Brain Quest Grades 3 & 4 offers a multitude of truly educational content to players both young and old, and while I would be more than willing to recommend it as a supplement to the at-home studying techniques already practiced by most families, it should in no way replace them entirely, as I fear the difficulty level might quickly turn what should be a positive learning experience into a negative one.

Special thanks to EA for providing a copy of this title.