Brain Age was released on the Nintendo Switch in January of this year. Wait, you haven’t heard of it? That’s because it hasn’t been released in North America yet, and at the time of writing, we have no word on a potential release. I’m a huge Brain Age fan – I played Concentration Training to death and back – so naturally, I created a European Nintendo account specifically to download and play Brain Age.
After about thirty hours and extensive experience with everything it has to offer, I’ve formed a rather solid opinion on it: it’s good. Just good. It certainly has problems, but it’s an enjoyable experience, so today, I’m going to rank all of its sub-games and discuss its features. Think of this as a review but without the strict format. Please note that I’m not going to cover the multiplayer games, as they are the one part of Brain Age I wasn’t able to try out.
Introduction & Sub-Game Rankings
Please work with me on the sideways images. This is how the game looks on the Switch, and I get that that doesn’t apply here, but I needed something to break up the repetition. Thanks for understanding.
It’s important to note that I played the European version of this game, so when (or if) it receives an American localization, there will likely be a handful of differences. Most noticeable is that Brain Age isn’t called Brain Age in Europe: it’s called Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training, though I will be referring to it as Brain Age for simplicity’s sake.
Brain Age is unique in that it simply does not function in docked mode. You have to play it handheld, and the screen is rotated long-ways the whole time. If you’re thinking of picking up the game, I’d recommend purchasing a soft-tipped stylus as well, as almost all of it is controlled solely via the touch screen. Brain Age was packaged with a stylus in its European release, but those of you in the USA will have to come up with a solution of your own. Personally, I use an Amazon Basics stylus. They’re somewhat inexpensive and they work just fine on the Switch.
The game costs about the equivalent of $30 USD, making it ten dollars cheaper than Brain Age: Concentration Training on the 3DS. As you might expect given the price reduction, the Switch version has less content, but it still has thirteen sub-games plus other goodies to keep you occupied. I’ve tried out all of these activities and have ranked them from best to worst in this list!
1. Masterpiece Recital
I’m not a musical person by any means, but Masterpiece Recital is my favorite sub-game in Brain Age. In the previous title on the Nintendo 3DS, I played Piano Player (the version equivalent) every day for over six months straight. Yeah. Masterpiece Recital sees you playing a makeshift piano by tapping on-screen keys at the right time.
When you boot up Masterpiece Recital for the first time each day, you’ll be forced to play a randomly selected song. After completing that track, though, you can choose any track you’ve unlocked. You start with one track, and there are fourty-nine more to unlock (you unlock a new song each day you play). I’d say I’m fairly happy with the track selection. There’s classics like “Home on the Range” and the like, but there’s (in my opinion) also more interesting ones to choose from such as the Tetris theme and a few tracks from Dr. Mario.
I do have one issue with Masterpiece Recital. A select few of the fifty tracks require you to tap two notes at once, and the Switch’s touchscreen is not receptive to this. Even when I press the correct notes at the same time, the game doesn’t recognize it and I am penalized a few points for an error I did not make. As a result, it’s almost impossible to get a perfect score on these songs without a bit of luck involved. Regardless, Masterpiece Recital is still my favorite activity in this game, and it’s one I find myself coming back to for a little bit each day.
2. Germ Buster
Most previous titles in the Brain Age series have included a “sanitized” version of Dr. Mario that does not actually feature Mario. Germ Buster is no different, as it is a reskinned version of the same game. It plays just fine and is quite enjoyable to wind down with every once in a while. The game includes new mixes of Dr. Mario’s Fever and Chill tracks, and they’ve been toned down to sound softer and slower.
I’ve had some issues with capsules clipping into each other if you drag them around too fast, but that’s kind of stretching it. Germ Buster is a fine mode, and an even finer addition to the overall package. It also lacks microtransactions of any kind, making it objectively superior to the recently-released Dr. Mario World.
3. Dual Task
A fairly simple game which, hence its name, requires you to multitask. On the top half of the screen, a character will run across a flat field and occasionally come across a hurdle. You have to touch the screen to make them jump and avoid running into it. On the bottom screen, you are presented with a group of numbers. You have to pick the highest number of the bunch. Dual Task might sound boring, but it’s an enjoyable (albeit short-lived) test of your multitasking ability. Here’s a quick tip: the highest a bottom-screen number can be is 19. If you see 19 on the bottom screen, tap it as fast as you can, because it’s the highest number that will ever be displayed there.
4. Finger Calculations
I found this one pretty neat. The Switch’s right Joy-Con has an infrared camera that can actually detect the shape of your hand! The screen will show you pictures of hands making number signs and ask them to add or subtract them by signing the number with your own hand. It makes for a unique kind of exercise that I haven’t seen done anywhere else (plus, it’s cool to show this technology to family members).
The spacing between the infrared camera and your hand can be a bit finicky at times, and it might not immediately recognize what number you’re signing, but these issues were far and few between (in my experience, anyway).
Everybody knows Sudoku, and this mode is exactly what you’d expect. A load of Sudoku problems. Three difficulties, well over a hundred problems, and accessibility options for those who might not be experienced in playing. There’s an option that lets the game tell you if the number you wrote is correct or incorrect, in which you can fail three times before being kicked out of the level. The other option is to complete the entire puzzle and check it at the end. I personally prefer the latter; the game’s number recognition is somewhat lacking.
I often found myself writing “9”, but having the number be interpreted as “5”, causing me to fail the challenge at no fault of my own. This problem unfortunately extends to every sub-game that features number writing. It can be circumvented in Sudoku, but later challenges really suffer from it. We’ll get to that in just a moment.
6. Calculations x25
Exactly what it sounds like: a series of twenty-five math problems you have to solve as quickly as possible. This is one of those sub-games that sounds boring on paper, and is only slightly boring in practice. It’s actually a rather useful brain warm-up, and unlike the previous game, the possible answers can go well above fifty.
Calculations x25 does suffer from the flawed number recognition, as in this game, you are aiming for the best possible time. If you write the wrong answer, the game stalls and waits for you to erase it and write the correct one. Depending on your handwriting style, it could take multiple rewrites to get the game to recognize your number. The mode is fine, but the recognition quirk does hinder it.
7. Finger Drills
It’s very similar to Finger Calculations. Instead of solving math problems, though, you have to move your hand to fit the same shapes as you’re shown on-screen. Unfortunately, you’ll find yourself making the same few shapes, and I found that doing this exercise too often actually caused my hand to cramp up. It’s certainly possible that some players won’t have this problem, but it was something to note in my case. There isn’t much else to say about this mode, though, as it is rather self-explanatory.
8. Word Scramble
Word Scramble is exactly what you’re thinking of: you have to unscramble a word on-screen. It’s very easy to cheat this game out by looking up an anagram solver, but I found a lot of the words featured in this sub-game to be ones I don’t use or think about on a regular basis. That might be good to train your brain to think of more words, but I usually found myself sitting there with no idea what to write. I think there’s some merit to Word Scramble, but it’s certainly not for me.
9. Photographic Memory
Average. This sub-game is very average. You’re shown a picture, and you have to remember it. This starts a cycle of having to choose the previous picture from a series of options while remembering the one that’s on the screen. Photographic Memory isn’t really good or bad, it just kind of exists. I’m sure repeated play could help improve your short-term memory, but in terms of whether it’s fun to play or not, meh.
10. Low to High
Another example of a game I’m kind of bad at. You’re shown a series of numbers which eventually disappear, and you have to recall and write them all from the lowest number to the highest. You’re required to do this several times in a row; by the fourth time I always felt kind of done with it. Again, I’m sure some would really enjoy this sub-game, but it’s not for me.
11. Head Count
Head Count is personally my least favorite sub-game in Brain Age. Maybe it’s because it’s so difficult! The screen shows a house graphic, and then people begin entering from the left and exiting to the right. You have to determine how many people are inside of the house at any given time. Head Count goes on for a long time, and again, this is probably helpful to improve your memory. I just never really got into it.
12. Calculations x100
It’s Calculations x25 times four. This usually takes me a minute or two to complete, and by all means, it isn’t bad at all. It’s just extremely similar to Calculations x25, plus you’re four times as likely to run into number recognition issues. Not much else to say here.
13. Reading Aloud
In this exhilarating sub-game, you read an article aloud, except the game can’t tell if you’re actually reading it aloud. The article itself usually takes about forty seconds to read… and then it tells you to do it a second time. It’s about as fun as it sounds, though there are a variety of (admittedly somewhat generic) articles to choose from.
Brain Age also includes its signature Brain Age Check. For this challenge, you’re up against three randomly selected activities, and I should note that many of these aren’t available as sub-games (this means you can’t practice ahead of time, which in this context is a good thing). These challenges are difficult, and they can really give your brain a figuratively strong workout. It is easy to cheat them by looking up answers or writing things down, but playing it legitimately could (or could not, who knows) result in increased “mental performance”.
The game also includes an assortment of (same-system) multiplayer games, but as I mentioned before, I was not able to try these out. I can’t imagine friends coming over to play Brain Age of all things, but I suppose it’s nice that these sub-games are present at all.
Now, once again, I have played over thirty hours of this game, so you might be asking me if I “got smarter”. My answer is maybe. Brain Age’s exercises aren’t really about becoming smarter, per se, but more about slightly improving your memory or focus. I do find that I focus better after a short session of Brain Age, but I can’t figure out if that’s because it’s helping or just because I like establishing a routine.
I’d like to tackle one final criticism for Brain Age on Switch: its comparative lack of content. A lot of exercises from Concentration Training are missing, including Block Head, Blob Blast, Spider Solitaire (this exclusion hits home), and a few others. Brain Age on Switch is $10 cheaper than its 3DS equivalent, but I would actually pay the difference to get the lost exercises back. It’s a shame, but I still feel that Brain Age on Switch is a complete title that is mostly worth your money. On the bright side, an all-new mode, Working Memory training, was added in a recent patch. Maybe they’ll bring back more modes in the future (or even in a potential American localization)?
My verdict, that is. If you’re a die-hard Brain Age fan (yes, they do exist), I’d recommend this purchase. This is the type of game where you can kind of gauge if you’ll like it before you play it, so if you’re interested now, you will probably enjoy it. On the contrary, if you don’t like slow-paced games that don’t have a real “point”, this is not for you.
A definite issue right now is that the game is only accessible on the European eShop. Don’t go buying it from the Japanese eShop unless you can read Japanese (I certainly can’t). Getting ahold of European currency is kind of a pain since PayPal is region locked, but if that’s not a problem for you, then go for it!
In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this read! I’m probably the only person who’s written this extensively about Brain Age for Switch. And it’s kind of sad that I’ve written more about this game than Nintendo of America (at the time of writing, at least). Hopefully an American release is in the works. Personally, I’m glad I got the game in January, because if I had held off for an official US eShop publication, I would still be waiting for it now. Thanks so much for reading — until next time!
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