There's a disclaimer right at the beginning of Brain Assist that states that the game "... does not guarantee medical or functional results. Also, the evaluation results are not based on medical data". Or, in other words, the odds are that no-one's going to get any lasting benefit whatsoever from playing Brain Assist. Which is a shame, because Brain Assist would be marginally more tolerable if it did actually do something beyond making the day seem longer - no gain without pain, and all of that - but it's immediately obvious that this is a quick and dodgy cash-in on the brain training phenomena that's sweeping the DS.
Brain Assist is set in the 'Right Brain Research Institute', which is staffed by a number of beady-eyed, semi-literate nurses who promise to help you improve your 'raight' brain skills in the introductory blurb. There are ten mini-games on offer, each allegedly designed to stimulate and improve some kind of right brain activity - only probably not, as the opening disclaimer points out. The games can be roughly divided into pattern matching, observation or memory games, though it's far easier to dump them all straight into the bin marked 'tedious'.
If we had to pick one of the least-awful distractions that the game foists on you, then 'Pi and Thagoras' is probably the closest the game comes to actually being entertaining. This presents you with a kind of jigsaw puzzle with irregularly shaped pieces on the touchscreen. You then have to choose the correct pieces to match a shape that's displayed on the top screen. There is some sort of brain activity involved in the process and it's one of those games that's much more tricky than it first appears, so it has a slightly compelling edge to it. It'd be a gross exaggeration, though, to say it ever veers anywhere close to being fun.
All the games play out like the kind of throwaway flash creations you might stumble over while surfing the net and tinker with for a minute or two before heading on your merry way. 'Spot the Difference' flashes up two pictures that may or may not be different in some way. The differences start out blindingly obvious - it's particularly amusing to be declared a genius because you're able to spot a neon yellow billiard ball on a table - before becoming a little more challenging. 'Quick Numbers' asks you to memorise increasingly long strings of numbers as they whizz by at a faster and faster pace. Wide-eyed, slack-jawed staring should see you through up to the point where the numbers start to blink invisibly by at Mach 3, at which point random guessing is about the only option. 'Count-mania' challenges you to tap on a sequence of numbers and/or letters in order before a time limit expires. We'd bet money that somewhere there's a laboratory rat currently playing the exact same game, and enjoying it about as much as we did. At least the rat gets a pellet of food for its efforts. Other games are variations on the idea of showing you something briefly and then asking you to remember where or what it was.
If you're doing particularly well in a game, you'll get bumped up a difficulty level or two by Eva, a black-clad, vaguely dominatrix-y nurse who appears in a flash of thunder and lightning. It's a bit of an odd choice in game that otherwise favours cutey-pie nurses and teddy bears but at least it's a change of pace. You'll get higher scores if you can keep succeeding when Eva is cracking the whip.
You're able to play the game in several different ways. Evaluation mode offers two different courses consisting of four different games, and you're given a grade at the end that reflects how well you've done. Single Game mode lets you play any of the ten mini-games you want. Compatibility Check lets you share the pain with a friend, as you alternate between games, and then co-operate on two final tests. The two players can either share one DS or each use their own. Multiplayer Mode spreads the misery even further, letting up to local four players compete against each other. There's no online Wi-Fi mode.
The game keeps stats and reports of all your efforts, so you can see how you've improved over time. It's a bit difficult to care, though, when the game is so overwhelmingly dull. More than anything, looking back over your stats will serve as a depressing reminder of how much time you've put into the game. Brain Assist is also happy to offer advice on how to improve your weak points by, for example, doing more crosswords - an activity not offered by the game itself and all the encouragement we needed to put it down and do something else. There are various unlocks to discover as you play the game, but they're little more than new player icons or a new nurse to put you through your paces.
Brain Assist has a colourful, cartoony presentation that's as inoffensive as it is bland. The (un-muteable) soundtrack has a vaguely techno-ish vibe about it that's very upbeat and seems desperate to convince the player that they're having fun, despite all evidence to the contrary. You'll probably tire of the game before the soundtrack, but it'll be a close run thing. The fact that the game has been cursed with some of the slowest loading times we've seen on the DS only adds to the woe. The various menu screens are particularly bad, with the DS apparently having to stop and have a damn good think about things before flipping to the next screen.
Brain Assist could theoretically keep you engaged for, gosh, anywhere up to an hour. Still, so could repeatedly emptying your kitchen cutlery drawer onto the floor and at least no-one is going to charge you $40 for your drawer tipping fun. There are many other 'brain games' available on the DS, and any one of them would be a wiser purchase than Brain Assist. When titles like Clubhouse Games offer a wide selection of tried and trusted games that are enjoyable, stimulating and playable online, Brain Assist can't be seen as anything other than badly fumbled attempt to hop on the brain training bandwagon and should be politely - but firmly - avoided.