Brain training games have become popular lately, with many a publisher having a go at developing its own version, in the hope of exploiting the newly identified 'casual gamer' market. Ubisoft is one of the newest to jump on the bandwagon, with the Gameloft-developed Brain Challenge for Nintendo DS. The game aims to improve intelligence and reduce stress levels through a series of short training exercises. Despite the recent deluge of brain games, this third-party title distances itself from most of the competition, as it is actually fun and challenging to play.
Players first have to create a profile, which simply consists of writing their name and choosing a male or female avatar as their trainer. Whichever one you go for, both look like something straight out of Grey's Anatomy. Players are then informed (insulted?) that they probably only use about 10 percent of their brain capacity, and that undertaking each of the game's challenges on a regular basis will lead to a greatly improved percentage.
Each of Brain Challenge exercises are split into five different categories -- Logic, Math, Memory, Visual, and Focus. Each group contains five mini games which can be unlocked as you play through the game. Some tests are similar to we've seen in other titles, but there is some new stuff in there as well. Exercises are fairly basic, such as remembering different sequences of characters, spotting the differences in a picture or just simple old arithmetic. Nonetheless, they become quite challenging as you improve, and most importantly, they are all different and fun to play.
Players are provided with a score at the end of each challenge, based on their accuracy and speed. Each test takes around sixty seconds or less to complete, and can be played on easy, normal or hard difficulty. Some exercises are more appealing then others, but the desire to get a higher grade is motivation enough for playing each one through.
Brain Challenge also allows players to test their 'stress' level. This simply involves completing mini games that are similar to the other brain training challenges. The stress mini games are sometimes more complex, such as requiring players to undertake two exercises at the same time, or doing arithmetic while sirens blare over the DS' speakers. The system for gauging stress is the same as for the brain training -- the quicker and more accurate you complete each challenge, the less stressed you are.
In addition to scoring players in individual categories such as Math and Memory, Brain Challenge also allows players to test their skills and stress levels in a daily training exercise. The daily challenge randomly picks one mini game from each of the different groups, and awards an overall brain activity score once all have been completed. The score isn't meant to be a scientific calculation of intelligence, but simply a ballpark figure for tracking the player's overall improvement. The daily stress test also gives you an overall score, but it is simply meant to be an indication of how much pressure you are under at that moment in time.
What differentiates Brain Challenge from similar games is that it charts the progress that players make. The game provides an overview of your progress, as well as more detailed summaries in relation to stress levels and individual brain skills. This gives players a real sense of achievement, as well as an indication as to what abilities they should be focusing on more. Indeed, there is also no limit as to how many hours, days or months you can play the game for, as there is always room for improvement. The steady mini game unlocking system also provides incentive to keep playing.
Brain Challenge is easy to pick up, as it is controlled entirely with the Nintendo DS stylus. Some challenges require you to input numbers, and for the most part, the game does a fairly quick and decent job at recognising what you have written down.
Brain Challenge isn't all about improving cognitive skills. Gameloft have thrown in a number of other mini games that are more about fun and relaxation than training. One of these additions allows you to draw colourful pictures on a blank canvas, while another lets you guide fish around the screen. While not particularly striking in and of themselves, the additional mini games are quite enjoyable and provide a neat distraction from the brain training tasks.
Rather then adopting the simple and generic visuals of other brain training titles, Brain Challenge looks colourful and polished. The menus and charts are easy to navigate, and the actual mini games are presented clearly and logically, so players will not have any trouble completing the various challenges. Indeed, Brain Challenge's graphics appear as though considerable time and thought has gone into their development, making this game of a much higher quality then some of the competition.
If you already own one of the numerous brain training games currently on the market, then Brain Challenge is unlikely to offer you anything new. However, if you haven't succumbed to the trend yet, Brain Challenge is a fine option that is guaranteed to put your cognitive functions to the test. Stress training, progress tracking and polished visuals further distinguish this game, which is also priced for those on a tighter budget. Brain Challenge on Nintendo DS is a solid game, the great thing being that you can even play it for a few minutes at a time, and still have achieved something in the process.