I profess to never having played the Nintendo DS, much less the handheld gaming system’s immensely popular Big Brain Academy. The game’s recent jump from handheld to the Wii, Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree, provides an opportunity for strictly home-based console players to see what all the fuss is about, myself included. I’m willing to put my brain on the line as a test subject, but I won’t forget the game was originally designed to work with the DS touch-screen and not the Wii-mote.
The set-up is a welcome one with the selection of a Mii icon for each player during enrollment in the university, a simple function some Wii games simply don’t support. A player’s Mii can be spotted in some of the games and always appears in the various record keeping books. Additional Mii characters from the console are found roaming the university halls in the menu screens. Little touches like these help personalize the game.
Once enrolled, players are invited to either jump right into the first brain exam consisting of five categories: Analyze, Identify, Memorize, Compute and Visualize, or practice any one of the 15 individual brain tests for a chance to earn a bronze, silver or gold medal. The big exam will throw out varying level of difficulty tests to come to a final brain weight score, while the practice sessions allow the player to select between easy, medium or hard. Adults will have little problem breezing through easy and medium, though hard is capable of being extremely challenging, requiring intense concentration to nail the best score.
Achieving the best score requires not only choosing the right answer, but choosing it as quickly as humanly possible. In this regard the Wii-mote makes some of the challenges harder than they really are. One simple mis-click on the edge of two answers while rushing to get an answer in fast might result in picking the wrong one. This rarely happens but it is a concern. Otherwise, the Wii-mote reacts remarkably well to the choices on-screen without any dead spots or bug issues, and it even offers verbal hints through its on-board speaker, another nice touch.
The brain games are hit and miss, but there’s enough variety for each player to naturally grasp onto one as a favorite. I had a good time trying to achieve a gold medal in a game requiring selecting direction panels on a board so a train could navigate to the other side. The highest difficulty setting spins the board, making it tough to differentiate between left and right turns on the fly. In contrast, I have little interest in playing the memorization games outside the main brain exam at all.
The downside to all the mini-games is they begin to feel stale and old on single-player after less than an hour of gameplay. The allure of increasing your brain weight score or winning a new medal doesn’t last very long, at least not in a single sitting. This is when the Wii’s party machine draw takes over with a number of multiplayer options designed to get players smack-talking all the way to ultimate bragging rights. Mind Sprint offers a one-on-one split-screen battle between two opponents to see who can finish the fastest. The tension this game generates puts the single-player games to shame. Mental Marathon allows two to four players see how many combined games they can finish in a row, while Brain Quiz supports up to 8 players in teams of two, where games are selected from a board and the winner crowned based on which team can finish them all within a set time limit. What’s great about the multiplayer games are not only do they create a highly competitive board game-like environment ala Mario Party, they also only require a maximum of two Wii-motes.
I’ve had fun with Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree playing solo and even more so playing with others, but there isn’t much beyond basic statistical tracking or sending scores to someone else via Wii Connect
24 to keep me coming back again and again. The lack of online play and additional modes/games is sorely missed. At least the initial few hours are fun and definitely worth a weekend rental, especially if you’re having some intellectual friends over for a gaming night in.
- Overall: 7.2
- It’s initially a blast and has outstanding mini-games, but it needs more game modes on the whole, and the replayability dwindles fast.
— Dan Bradley