Version tested: DS
I didn't always want to write about games, you know. For example, earlier I wanted to eat some crisps. Then I wanted to go to the loo. I've achieved all these things and more. And, if Big Brain Academy is to be believed, that's only the tip of my potential, which floats along on a sea of genius ripping the hulls off the schooners of failure.
I could've worked in fashion, or as an FBI profiler ("this FBI walks peculiarly and spends lots of time in Starbucks wearing sunglasses," I might have reported), or even been a doctor if I'd wanted to. And had I actually done that, and wrapped a stethoscope round my neck convincingly, I would be able to speak with alarm about the idea, promoted by Big Brain Academy's headmaster (who looks a bit like a Twiglet wearing an anvil), that my brain's 400 grams heavier than it was yesterday. No wonder I have a headache.
See, whereas Prof. Kawashima's Brain Training game measures your brain's age, allowing you to chip away at it once a day after a bit of warm-up on reading and doing sums, Big Brain Academy puts you through a different battery of tests and tells you what it reckons your brain weighs as a result and what kind of job you could do with it.
Each task lasts a minute and while there's a bit of overlap with the contents of Brain Training (sums, for example, although here you tap the answers to written questions on a number-pad rather writing the numbers) in general it's quite different, with the categories of Think, Identify, Memorise, Computer and Analyse bouncing around distinctly different areas of your noggin.
For example, the 'Think' tests show you a few sets of scales with cuddly animals arranged on them, and the idea is to work out which is the heaviest and then tap his icon. There's also a test where you need to track where a dog's going to end up on a grid of squares by thinking through a sequence of prescribed movements.
'Memorise' crosses over a bit too, but is less like Word Memory aka The Generation Game and more flash cards, as you repeat sequences of sounds by tapping icons and type in strings of numbers after they appear on the top screen. 'Identify' is about responding to visuals - e.g. which of the objects on the touch-screen form the moving silhouettes on the top.
Elsewhere 'Compute' has you answering written sums or counting pictures and then trying to make the same number out of different pictures on the touch-screen, and 'Analyse' involves working out the numbers of cubes that form odd shapes (lots of length-times-breadthing, which we appreciated more when we thought "breadthing" might be a Googlewhack), and filling in missing lines on diagrams.
In Practice mode you can access each of the game's 15 tasks individually and take them on to aim for medals. Each gives you a "lobe" weight based on your skills and usually you need about 250g to achieve gold. With success, a blue blob grows to fill the "brain pentagon" on the main screen, which looks a bit like the player-skill indicators in Pro Evolution Soccer. You can also aim for platinum ratings, for which you need to achieve over 400 grams.
All of this, of course, contributes to skills that you'll need to achieve a big brain weight on the main 'Test' mode, where speed and accuracy quickly propels you through each one-minute task until it's giving you the toughest tasks and the grams start to stack up faster.
Technically there's nothing wrong with Big Brain Academy, which is handy after all the BLUE BLUE I SAID BLUE FOR F***ING F***S SAKE of Brain Training. In other words there's no microphone usage. Meanwhile all the graphics and explanations are bright and clear. This has led some people to complain that it won't appeal to people above a certain age, but that sounds a bit spurious and anecdotal to me - and certainly doesn't gel with my gran's buying me a Lion King readalong book and tape for Christmas when I'd just turned 14.
Indeed, the only real problem I had with Big Brain Academy on a presentation level was that I had no real idea what all the US coins were worth by sight, so the task about figuring out which pile of them is worth more didn't really work to begin with. That said, I'd feel bad about withholding marks because Satoru Iwata didn't force my dad to have sex with Americans.
Nevertheless there are reasons to withhold them - for example, that the game's just too easy for people who graduated the... well, people who can spell "graduate". It took less than an hour to achieve gold medals in every task in the game, and it doesn't take somebody as doctorly as me to figure out that Twiglet-masters and counting animals probably amount to a game aimed at the younger end of the spectrum. A lack of humour and any unlockable aspects doesn't help it escape that label either.
None of that's a real reason to mark it down though. The problem's more one of structure. Without Brain Training style restrictions on the amount of time you can play, and in the absence of graphs and other amusing little ways to track progress, Big Brain Academy's exposed and harpooned its own trick - you're meant to improve your general ability to complete these sorts of tasks in everyday life by spreading the play across a few weeks, but if you can just run through them and then forget them once you've been sent off to surgery then you're not going to bother.
One thing you will bother with though is multiplayer. You can send people a demo version to encourage them to buy it, but that doesn't matter because you can also play each other using one game-card. Set it up, pick a task and a target brain-weight, and then try and respond to each task quicker than the other guy to leap a few grams ahead - with penalties for wrong answers and the responsibility for picking an activity switching player with each turn.
Then again, while fun, the multiplayer merely stabs the illusion some more - helpfully underscoring just how arbitrary the brain-weight is and how really it's all just based on reaction times anyway. Big Brain Academy's certainly fun in an innocent kind of way, but it's probably a better bet for your offspring than for you - although you won't regret joining in for a bit of multiplayer. Those entranced by Brain Training should bear in mind there's another version of that due along one day, and it's probably wiser to wait, and fulfil your dreams of buying an extra round at the pub while Trinidad tonk England instead.
7 / 10
Big Brain Academy is out in the US now, with a UK release date of July 7th.