Train your brain

Gamers have long argued that playing video games is a beneficial exercise and not a source of mental rot and a social ill.

A good majority of games require quick thinking and fast reflexes that constantly engages the player’s mental faculties and affects reasoning, deduction and problem-solving skills. That has been the theory, anyway. So it’s interesting, then, that the game that may finally prove the point isn’t a video game in the traditional sense at all.

Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training is, for all intents and purposes, an exercise routine … for the brain. What separates Brain Training from “real” games is that there is no conclusion, no ultimate aim and no endgame, so to speak. Beginning with the very first age check, the point is to stimulate your brain. By performing the daily training exercises and charting your progress over time, the idea is to gain a gradual improvement in mental abilities.

The game is based on the work of Dr Ryuta Kawashima, a noted Japanese neuroscientist, whose research has proven that consistent mental exercises do, in fact, increase the blood flow to the brain and with it life-sustaining oxygen.

The exercises range from having to solve a rapid succession of very basic math problems to keeping a head count of how many people enter and exit a house.

They are designed to challenge specific mental abilities. Exercises like “Low to High” (completing a sequence of numbers in ascending order) help with concentration and memory, while the syllable tests improve cognition. Due to all the puzzles being based on actual research into mental ability, the game offers a well-rounded regimen for the brain. And, as a bonus, Brain Training includes a host of sudoku puzzles.

While the exercises themselves seem terribly mundane, Brain Training‘s appeal isn’t limited by them — quite the opposite. The game seems to illicit a strange compulsion to prove you still have the chops to compete 100 simple math problems against the clock, only to discover that years of calculator use has eroded your multiplication tables. And that is the game’s driving force: proving that you are as smart as you think you are and having the record to prove it.

Brain Training is also the perfect game to show off the Nintendo DS’s unique features. Incorporating both voice and handwriting recognition, the game functions fairly smoothly. It’s by no means perfect, though. The handwriting recognition can be off sometimes, with your own writing quirks getting in the way. This is especially problematic when you have tests that pit you against the clock. Until you learn how the game actually expects you to write certain numbers and letters, your initial progress may be limited. With practice, it does get better.

So does Brain Training improve you mental capabilities? Perhaps, perhaps not, but the placebo effect alone is enough to make you feel smarter. It may not be strictly defined as a game, but it does deliver something that all good games deliver: a satisfying and enjoyable experience.

RATINGS AND DETAILS

Graphics: Good

Sound: Good

Gameplay: Excellent

Value: Excellent

Publisher: Nintendo

Age rating: All

Recommended retail price: R399

Platforms: Nintendo DS

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