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Brain Age: Concentration Training

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Do you remember Brain Age? Wouldn’t it be funny had you played Brain Age but forgotten all about it? The DS was treated with two Brain Age games, designed by Japanese neuroscientist Dr. Ryuta Kawashima. Using the DS’s unique hardware features such as the microphone and touch screen, those two pieces of software presented the gamer with different training exercises to enhance a multitude of different brain functions. It’s been quite some time, almost six years, since the second Brain Age, and now Dr. Ryuta Kawashima returns with a new Brain Age, this time for the 3DS.

Brain Age: Concentration Training is quite different from the previous two games. Concentration focuses on our declining ability to focus and, well, concentrate on matters at hand. When you first start up the game, Dr. Kawashima, who now speaks to you with his own voice, introduces himself to you with a mini-lecture about how addicted we’ve become to information. We’re constantly checking our email on our laptops or fiddling around with our phones, unable to focus on our work. The clinical term is called “information addiction”, and the good doctor has designed Brain Age: Concentration Training to help combat it.

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Kawashima’s new series of brain training exercises is called Devilish Training. You’ll notice that when you select Devilish Training, Kawashima’s virtual visage is now adorned with horns. Yes, these training exercises are hard, which is why they’re called Devilish Training. There are eight exercises in this mode, and they all grow increasingly difficult the better your performance. If you start having trouble, the difficulty scales down to adjust to your current ability. Gone is the actual Brain Age, where you received a number that corresponded with your actual age, and now you are ranked with a training grade which is worn across the chest of your Mii.

Devilish Calculations will have you memorizing answers to previous equations. Devilish Shapes is just like Calculations, but you’ll be remembering random shapes instead, and Devilish Listening is like Calculations as well, but Ryuta will be speaking out the equations. Devilish Mice shifts the positions of mice hidden behind tiles and Devilish Cups shifts numbered balls around like a shell game where you need to answer in sequence. Devilish Pairs is like the classic Memory game, where you’ll need to flip cards right side up and match them, while Devilish Blocks has you memorizing the positions of blinking blocks. Devilish Reading is the only exercise in the game where it’s almost unplayable. It has you reading sentences out loud and memorizing underlined words, but the microphone doesn’t pick up on what you’re saying well. You pretty much have to scream at the 3DS to get it to register and you’re so focused on trying to get the game to hear you, you start forgetting what the underlined words are.

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The game is designed to improve your memory, and you will see benefits if you really try to stick with it, but it comes at a cost. Unlike the previous Brain Age games, these exercises prove to be more frustrating than they are fun. One such problem is that Concentration suffers from the same issue as the other games in that its handwriting recognition is still shoddy. Sometimes you will write a three that is very easily legible as a three, but the game thinks you wrote a seven. Once that happens, the game will buzz or Kawashima will go “Uh oh.” Kawashima also continues to say things to you while you’re trying to focus on these exercises, and that can be counter-productive at times.

Fortunately, the game has more than just Devilish Training. There’s other modes, such as Supplemental Training and Brain Training. Supplemental Training focus on improving the speed of your working memory, while Brain Training is centered more around the cognitive functions of your brain. Both modes bring back training exercises from previous games, such as Piano Player, Calculations X 20 and Change Counter, but they also have some new ones as well. Brain Training has many different solitaire games ranging from classic Klondike to Peg to Mahjong.

Relaxation Mode is available to you in case you’ve had enough hard thinking for a while. Blob Blast has you matching up rows of different blobs and clearing them before the ceiling closes down on you. There’s also Germ Buster, which is a remix of Dr. Mario. Then there’s Music Appreciation, but it isn’t a game at all. All it does is play different pieces of music while it displays some relaxing scenery. The real letdown of this entire package is that it’s completely devoid of Sudoku. It also takes 40 days of training before you unlock everything, which means sometimes you go a few days without anything new to play, and once you get something new, it’s a revisit of a training exercise you’ve already done in both Brain Ages.

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It’s hard to really go into depth about the graphics with a title such as this. Dr. Kawashima’s virtual face is rendered and animated better while still continuing the defined polygonal aesthetic Brain Age fans are used to. For the most part, you’re just going to witness simple graphics that display basic shapes and white backgrounds that have black text. Aside from a little added definition, there’s no real use of 3D in the game. The same can be said with the audio. Since this isn’t really a game per say, there’s no need for fancy sound effects. You’ll just hear positive bings and negative bongs and scribbles as you write things down and squeaks from mice as they get shuffled behind tiles. There’s occasional music that plays while you’re shuffling through the game’s modes and it’s soft and relaxing. When you play Germ Buster, you’ll recognize the arrangements of the classic Dr. Mario music, although they are far too tuned down. Dr. Kawashima’s voice is pleasant to listen to, but sometimes he can come off a bit patronizing.

Brain Age: Concentration Training does serve a purpose. It’s a harsh reminder that we have become entirely too distracted in the ever-growing Age of Information. Dr. Ryuta Kawashima does come right out and apologize early for his Devilish Training, because it is quite hard. Fans of the previous Brain Ages will take to this game differently; some will appreciate the fresh new take on the series, but others will grow entirely too frustrated with it. Leveling up on a Devilish Training only to level down again can be very discouraging to impatient games. Plus, the value of the game seems to be lacking, as many of the Supplemental and Brain Trainings are repeats. Again, there’s no Sudoku, and if anything was going to be repeated, it should have been Sudoku. If you feel you really need help with improving your memory, by all means, give it a look, but just be warned: Ryuta Kawashima is indeed a devil.

The Good

You do see improvements in memory if you stick with it | Lots of fun solitaire games to play | Blob Blast and Germ Buster are highly addicting

The Bad

A few Devilish Trainings are too frustrating to keep trying | No Sudoku | Too many revisited training exercises

3/5

Born and raised in Denver, CO in 1979, I've been playing games since I was old enough to hold a controller. I was weened on Atari, then Nintendo and Sega, and currently own just about every console and handheld made. I'm an avid hip hop fan and I love to read books. Favorite authors include Dean Koontz, Stephen Hunter, and Christopher Moore. I'm also an avid movie watcher and I try to collect as many Blu-Rays as I can.

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