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July 26, 2013

Big Brain Academy DS

I consider myself an intelligent man. A tad quirky, with a natural preference for cracking jokes and telling puns, smart enough to know how wrong the world can be, but smart enough to see the good in it. And quite frankly, while I applaud the idea of games with sole purpose to test one's intelligence, it doesn't mean these games are worth this much. I'm not saying they're bad! I'm just saying that people will largely prefer the thrill of a RPG or the constant tension caused by the worlds filled with dangers of a platformer. Not to mention the incredible fun one can have carjacking innocent citizens in Grand Theft Auto, or just shoot around in a war zone.

But Big Brain Academy, as its name indicates, is as awesome as an IQ test. Oh, IQ tests are fun. But not as fun as blowing a monster's head off.

When the Nintendo DS came out, many saw the multiple possibilities of the amazing touch screen. Some chose to make games that required you, on a few occasions, to touch the bottom screen to have something happen. Well, that's all fine, unless you have to press any buttons on the console's right side immediately after; In that case, the stylus was more of an annoyance for the right-handed. Others decided to combine the two possibilities without having them interfere much. There would be moments with the stylus and touch screen, there would be moments with the regular button-mashing. But the game was carefully designed so that neither would become a pain, and the player wouldn't go mad just having to switch between both. Some designers, even smarter, decided that the game could be played both ways at any moment; Boy, that must have been difficult to program. Last but not least, there are those who saw the touch screen as the solution to all their problems. Because, like it or not, sometimes you can do with a little plastic pencil and a touch-sensitive screen more than you can do with 12 buttons combined. Have you ever tried playing Sudoku on a button-only console? It's awful. How easier it is to just write the numbers!

Another big feature of the DS is, well... the double screen. Where home consoles had only one screen (the television), albeit a big one, only so much could be shown to the player until he was overflowed with information. It gets even worse on the portable consoles, such as the Game Boy and its three generations. The screen is already small, and before the Game Boy Advance SP, which had a light function, it was often difficult to see what was on the screen. In a way, the Nintendo DS solved a ton of problems; It had five intensities of light, a main screen to see your character progress through the game, and another screen to show the maps, character locations, life bars, and so on. That's not even talking about setting the date and hour, a feature that added an interesting touch to many games.

What about the microphone feature? ...I'll cover that later, for now it's not important.

Anyway, Big Brain Academy is part of those games that served only one purpose: Make the player smarter. It wasn't the only game of its kind, either; the two Brain Age DS games just increased the number of games in that family. Then, there were games designed to make you smarter in some fields of expertise: I once saw a cooking game for the DS. A real cooking game without a mascot nor cute characters.

But for the moment, those are not my business. Okay, enough explanation, let's dive into Big Brain Academy.

We soon find ourselves in a rather shallow pool of a game, as the player discovers when he enters his name. Doctor Lobe, that silhouette of a Ph.D. as drawn by a five-years-old, tells the player that he'll get tuition for free for subscribing to the game. Okay, he already thinks we're idiots, as we clearly had to pay for the game beforehand, unless we rented it. Lobe claims to be headmaster of the Academy. He can call this a University if he wants, as long as we're actually learning something in here, and we're not wasting our time on silly games. After a not too lengthy introduction, he invites the player to pass the test.

Apparently, in this game, they calculate not the IQ, but the “brain weight”. Okay, this Academy lost all credibility now. Before we have an official “brain size” and grade given to our brain, the grade is called Minus G. Haha, funny. Anyway, Dr. Lobe says that he'll test us through five categories. To name them: Think, Memorize, Analyze, Compute and Identify. You don't choose which one you do; he chooses both the category and the game you will be playing. Each category has only three different games, for a total of fifteen, but each of those games can go on and on until it reaches astonishing difficulty levels. Each of those five tests takes only one minute, and ends when the timer hits 0. So you can do as many as you want, until the timer ends. Fair enough.

Let me pass the test.

(Six minutes later)

So, after the test is completed, dear Doctorate Lobe tells us his brain weighs 1972 grams. Nice. Anyway, he then calculates the player's brain weight simply by adding up the results of all five categories. My brain reached 1319 grams. Not bad, but I don't know what it says about my IQ... Let's see: I passed the Analyze and Memorize sections with flying colors. I did very well in Identify and Think. And I did only average on Compute.

To add a little bit of an insult to it, Lobe then tells me that I have a Grade B brain that could have belonged to an FBI profiler.

I used to play this game more. I kept all my save files, so I'll just see what my “high score” is. ...Turns out it's 1728 grams, with a grade of A. I suppose the only way to truly complete the game is to beat Headmaster Lobe at his own game and go beyond his own brain weight. Literally a battle of wits.

Now that the game's “story” has been explored, let's see the other features of this game. On the main screen, there's of course the Test option that forces you to test your brain again through all five categories. Then, there's the Practice option, in which you can play every minigame and attempt to top yourself. Last but not least, a Versus mode that can be played against many players. However, if these are all players without Big Brain Academy, you'll probably beat them all, only by your experience with the game. Also, on the file selection screen, there's an option to send a Big Brain Academy demo to all nearby Nintendo DS. Because this is so much better than playing Mario Kart DS!

Before I start explaining every minigame, I have to add this: The minigames have a medal system. For every minigame, you can play and attempt to get a score high enough so that a medal will be added beside that game's title. I guess this is either the Mathletics or the OlympThink games, then. The medal system, however, hides a surprise. You can get a bronze, a silver or a gold medal on the minigames, but if you're just brilliant, you might wind up with a PLATINUM medal. Better than good, ain't that great? Also, each of the games can be played on Easy, Normal or Hard mode. Let's take a look at the games.

-Heavyweight: On the top screen, you are shown a series of scales with objects on them. On the bottom, there are some squares, each containing one of the kind of object on the top screen. You basically have to tap the object that is the heaviest on the top screen. Since the objects are selected randomly, a cat can be heavier than an elephant.
-Pathfinder: An animal on the top screen, an animal at the bottom screen. And between them, a few vertical lines often joined by horizontal lines. The top character will go down and follow every horizontal line it meets, while always going downwards on the vertical axis. You must draw a single line thanks to which both animals will meet.
-Bone Yard: The top screen shows a series of movements made by a dog or groups of blocks. The bottom screen shows a grid with the aforementioned dog and blocks. You must go through all the indications and tap the square the dog will end up in once all the indications are completed. The dog can get pushed by the blocks!

-Sound Bites: You will hear a few noises from the objects on the top screen. You must then tap on the touch screen the objects that made those noises, in the exact same order.
-Flash Memoy: A number flashes quickly on the top screen, and you must write it on the bottom screen with the number pad provided.
-Memo-Random: A series of squares with symbols appear on the top screen. When you tap Memorized, one or more of those squares are covered by question marks and you must tap on the bottom screen only the symbols that were hidden.

-Missing Link: On top, dots linked with blue lines, usually making a picture. Some of those lines are red, and on the bottom screen, those red lines (along with some blue ones sometimes) are gone. Re-draw only the red lines!
-Cube Game: On top, a construction of blocks. On the bottom, a number pad. Count the amount of blocks on the top screen and tap it on the number pad.
-Animal Lines: You see some series of objects on the top screen; you have to find them on the bottom screen's grid. Kind of like a word seek with symbols. The series can go backwards and/or diagonally.

-Coin-parison: On the bottom screen, two sides with coins on both. You just have to tap the side with the biggest monetary value.
-Add Agency: The top screen shows a number of objects. You must tap on the bottom screen two squares (among four, which all contain a few objects) that, when added, equal the number of objects on the top screen.
-Written Math: An equation is written on top; tap the answer on the bottom screens number pad.

-Shadow Shift: One or more images on the top screen are shadowed, and you simply have to tap on the bottom screen the objects that match the shadows.
-Get In Shape: There's a shape on the top screen. That shape is made of many smaller objects, all of which are on the bottom screen with some that don't belong there. Tap only those that will form the shape.
-Matchmaker: Find matches among the many squares on the bottom screen. There can be more than one match.

Now that this is covered, let's see: Is this game worth buying?

Officially, if you're not a big fan of thinking games, I don't recommend it to you. However, if you like to train your brain, this could be a little game to buy. It's cute for the most part, it doesn't harm anything. The mini-games start off easy as pie and end up very, very challenging. There will be games in there that you will dislike, trust me. But that's the case with every game with mini-games. Also, no matter how condescending I pictured Lobe, when you achieve an impressive score, he's proud to tell you. All in all, a game to buy if that's the kind of thing you like.