When Nintendo announced Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day, we were skeptical. After all, how fun could reading and math minigames be? Turns out, they were fun, and the simple presentation but ever-increasing challenges kept us coming back for more. So when Big Brain Academy, a sequel of sorts to Brain Age was announced, we were pretty excited. Now that we’ve gotten our hands on Big Brain Academy, well, we’re a bit underwhelmed. While there’s a much larger variety of games in Academy than in Brain Age, the game seems to have lost some of its charm in the development process. It’s still good fun, just not as fun as Brain Age, but for $20, it’s definitely a good way to keep the old gray matter sharp.
Academy is split into slightly more than a dozen different games which are broken into five categories. Each category is meant to “train” your brain in specific areas, including memory, math, analysis and identification. Games in the memory group, for example, are basically matching based, including flash-card style games, finding which characters match shadows bouncing around the screen, etc. Other games have you deciding which item weighs more than another, sort of an “if X weighs more than Y, and two Y’s weigh more than Z, does X weigh more than Z?” but presented using friendly little characters such as a pig in place of X, and a flower in place of Y. Overall, it feels like you’re “playing” the S.A.T.’s, which really isn’t all that fun unless you’re a learning junkie. The games as a whole feel a lot like learning versions of the stuff from Wario Ware games, and while not bad, they get stale quickly.
One of the key gameplay issues with Big Brain Academy is that, like Wario Ware games, it forces you to race against a countdown timer. In Brain Age, you were timed, but it was so you could beat your time from the previous day(s). In Academy, it feels like you’re racing the game, and not yourself, and that’s a very important distinction. It might seem minor to some players, but to many, it will feel too much like a race and less like a learning game.
The production values in Brain Age were nothing to write home about, but they got the job done. In Big Brain Academy, Nintendo obviously wanted to goose things up by adding 3D visuals, plenty of color and more music, but alas, it falls a little flat. It’s not that we were expecting shiny Quake-level visuals, after all, this is the videogame equivalent of the S.A.T., but at the same time, it’s just really boring to look at, and the attempt to replace the charming Doctor from Brain Age with a new wormlike character who lacks any sense of charm. Nintendo could have replaced him with a square text box, and it would’ve been just as appealing. The audio is pretty basic, just enough sounds and soundtrack to keep the game moving.
Big Brain Academy isn’t so much of a new Brain Age as it is a sort of expansion pack. For $20, you definitely get your money’s worth, but its limited number of games and lack of character combine to make it pretty boring pretty after a few hours. Even though Brain Age was even more limited in the overall number of games available, it somehow manages to be more appealing than this more colorful and seemingly more complete update. Big Brain Academy’s worth the $20, so long as you’re not expecting to be amazed by it.
- Gameplay: 7.5
- A good, though somewhat limited, collection of minigames to challenge the mind
- Graphics: 6.5
- Visually, it gets the job done, but lacks any charm.
- Sound: 6.5
- It’s all about your brain, not music, so don’t expect much
- Replay: 7
- Not nearly as addicting as Brain Age, but it’ll maintain your interest long enough to get your money back.
- Overall: 7
- Wario War mixed with Brain Age = a decent way to spend $20
— Craig Falstaff