Brain Quest: Grades 5 & 6
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-10-19 Nintendo DS Educational E (Everyone) EA Games / Planet Moon

To continue with the current theme of brain training video games that have been released over the past few years, EA has given the popular book franchise "Brain Quest" new life by releasing two titles for the Nintendo DS, each targeted at a different age group. The first, Brain Quest: Grades 3 & 4, as the name suggests, is aimed at 8 and 9-year-old 3rd and 4th graders. The second game of the duo, Brain Quest: Grades 5 & 6 obviously targets children in the 5th and 6th grades, ages 10-12.

In Grades 5 & 6, as in Grades 3 & 4, 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 obviously places you in the middle of a quest as you are led through gameplay by a young boy named Brian.

During Quest Mode, you'll find yourself placed in the middle of an extreme sports championship of sorts, where you will have to compete against 18 different competitors in sports like soccer, snowboarding, and surfing, among other activities. Each competitor is identified within a certain subject group and will represent a different step within the championship ladder, with each bit cleverly fitting into the educational theme. That is, you may find yourself learning about math in order to better predict the angle at which to shoot the soccer ball into the goal, or learning about the history of surfing in order to have an edge in that sport as well.

Each mission contains two parts. After being challenged by an opponent, you will enter a sort of "warm up" round of questions against them. 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, an amount that decreases 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.

Once you pass the three rounds and have proven that you are a worthy competitor, you will enter a second, longer set of questions. This five-round (or 25 questions) 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 competitors that you talk to will launch you into a separate two-part mission, with points awarded based on your success, and various pieces of sports memorabilia 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 various sports arenas themselves.

Considering the 6,000 questions in the game, the likelihood of repeating a question is quite slim. Furthermore, with the option of playing at either a fifth or a sixth grade level separately (or a combination of the two), there is plenty of replayability and opportunity for growth to keep most players interested in the long run. However, the difficulty of some of the questions might throw them off.

Much like its 3rd and 4th grade counterpart, the Math and English sections of the game are still fairly simple, especially from an adult player's standpoint. However, where the other categories were at least passable in the former game, in this title they are nigh impossible.

While the game does claim to be based around national standards and curriculum, I have to admit that even I had some trouble with most of the questions here, especially in the History department. And it's not just me, as my 35 year old sister and 57 year old mother (both college graduates) also became quickly fed up with the questions presented here.

Granted, it's been a long time since any of us were actually in elementary school, so I'm positive that standards have changed since then, but when a game is more frustrating than fun, it doesn't matter how accurately it represents the curriculum, as no one would want to play it anyhow.

Now 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 multiplayer mode 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, there are Sudoku puzzles comprising 9x9, 4x4 and 6x6 grids, with multiple levels of difficulty for each. This Sudoku mode itself would be worth the price of admission for many, but for others, it's still an appreciated break from the sometimes repetitive main game.

As for the overall look of the game, you can definitely tell this is a children's title. The human forms lack detail, 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.

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, while Brain Quest Grades 5 & 6 offers a range of truly educational content to players, I have to say that its target audience seems a bit young. And when my niece can more easily adapt to titles like Brain Age, which isn't even truly aimed at children, that has to say something about Brain Quest as a whole.

In the end, while I might go so far as 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.