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Train your brain on the Nintendo DS Lite

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The new version of Nintendo’s Brain Training game for the DS Lite handheld console is one of the ultimate examples of the game-maker’s ability to take gaming beyond its traditional markets. Aimed at the over-45s, it has sold millions to this audience, yet is equally addictive for adults and children. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK gives his brain a workout, and discovers he’s not the only one getting hooked …
Game: Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo DS Lite
Price: R270-R330

Nintendo’s computer games tend to occupy a market of their own due to their ability to appeal to all age groups and across the traditional boundaries of family entertainment.  Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training, sub-titled “How Old is Your Brain?” is probably the ultimate example.
Designed to provide daily exercises for the brain by taking the player through a variety of mental exercises, it is in reality a very addictive way of playing sodoku puzzles, taking maths and counting tests, and messing with memory exercises.

So addictive, in fact, that if you allow another family member to try it out, you may as well look for another distraction for the next few hours. They aren’t going to let you have it back, unless you can find an even more interesting bribe. Unfortunately, though, the exercises don’t address the effects of too much chocolate.
Brain Training makes innovative use of the DS Lite’s dual screen, with instructions usually appearing on the left-hand screen (actually the top screen, but Brain Training requires the handset to be used sideways), and the game or test is shown on the right – although this is often reversed, placing the appropriate content where it makes most sense.
You can play all day, but only test your brain once a day, which offers an incentive to practise in between – especially if your brain is scored as older than you realy are…

Let’s test the testing ability of Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training by putting it through the Gadget Gamer’s Four Question test:

1. Is it easy to use?
The game takes you step by step through its set-up, with Dr Kawashima’s face regularly popping up on the left-hand screen to offer advice or the odd pithy comment about the time of day. You provide local time during set-up, so he always knows if you’re burning the battery life at both ends. A word of warning here: he suffers from allergies, which get worse at certain seasons and times of day. Too much information? As long as it doesn’t get in the way of the gaming experience, it is tolerable.
The one aspect that is frustrating, and which is common to many of the DS Lite games, is that there is no simple function for displaying core options while you are in the middle of something, for example when  you want to navigate quickly between games or players.

2. Does it offer instant gratification?
It sure does. The first time someone tests their brain age, they are still getting used to the device and the tests, and are likely to be rated as being in their 70s, even if they are half that age. This poses an instant challenge to bring your brain age down, and that’s when the fun starts.
The brain age tests are selected at random, supposedly by the good doctor. He is rather polite, and checks whether you are able to talk or not in your current environment. If you are, you are required to respond verbally in some tests. Voice recognition is reasonably good, but on regular occasions clearly enunciated words are mis-heard. Dr Kawashima does not volunteer for Hearing Training though.
The tests tend to be the more boring, if more challenging, aspect of the game. The exercises are more fun, especially for sodoku fans. A few dozen sodoku games are on offer, and you are rated on your speed of completing each. Once you’ve done them all, you can always return and try to improve on your – or family members’ – best scores. This can result in tremendous competitiveness within the family, the breakdown of the nuclear family, and the end of civilisation as we know it. Unless you all behave like reasonable human beings, of course!

3. Is it immersive? (Does it absorb the player?)
For a game that mostly involves numbers and words on a screen, it is astonishingly absorbing and addictive. Try prying it away from someone who is trying to beat their (or your) best score! It is the kind of game you can come back to again and again. If you don’t have a life, on the other hand, and play this 12 hours a day for a month, you may find the novelty wears off. If the men in white coats have to pry it out of your hands, though, it may mean that there is still some playing time to be had from it.

4. Can even an adult enjoy it?
In this case, since it is designed for adults, the question should be whether even a child can enjoy it. The answer is a definite yes. Not only is it great fun for children of reading and counting age, but it is an ingeniously sneaky way of getting them to practise numeracy and literacy techniques. In my family, mom, dad and daughter (in primary school) are all hooked. The doctor tends to annoy all of us from time to time, for different reasons, but he is like those crazy old uncles you can ignore when they start talking to themselves. Really, they should have used Brain Training, and they wouldn’t be a chip short of a packet today…

In summary, Brain Training offers endless enjoyment, stimulation – and mental exercise – to all members of the family. Right now, my brain is more than ten years younger than I am. So, naturally, I am on the lookout for Body Training. Surely a handheld game could make my body ten years younger as well?

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