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Review of Brain Age for the Nintendo DS

January 1, 2006

in All Articles,Games

Something odd just happened with a video game. It’s never happened before. I’ve been a gamer for as far back as my memory goes, and have played a huge variety of video games. I’ve hunted and ran from aliens, raced futuristic-yet-non-aerodynamic cars and, yes, fought bad guys as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. But nothing in my vast video game experience prepared me for this:

I couldn’t play a video game, because my wife wouldn’t put it down!

The game was “Brain Age” for the Nintendo DS. Previously, the lovely Gena was fairly ho-hum about video games. Like the way Congress feels about the national debt: It’s there, but mostly ignored. But now, Gena was playing and nothing was stopping her. When I very politely asked to play, her eyes shone red as she very politely requested I give her more time.

Let me be very clear about what this means: A person who didn’t care for video games became addicted to Brain Age within a few minutes of playing. This game is seriously fun.

Over weeks of playing, something even stranger happened. Gena was better than me! Sure, she’s better than me in just about everything, but with video games, I usually have the edge! (I hope you realize how hard that was to type. I was a semi-finalist in the “Nintendo World Championships”, fer cryin out loud.)

Inspired by the research of Dr. Ryuta Kawashima (he’s the stern-looking guy in the title photo above), Brain Age is a collection of puzzles and simple games, all designed specifically to activate the prefrontal cortex of your brain. This allows you to work your brain like a muscle, strengthening your mind to perform better in everyday life. This also prevents “brain atrophy”: Just like a muscle, if you don’t use your brain, it gets weaker.

Dr. Kawashima appears frequently as you play Brain Age. An odd mixture of cheerleader and neuroscientist, he introduces the games, and acts differently based on time of day or date (play on the right date, he’ll even wish you a happy birthday).

“Hoo hoo ha,” indeed.

Playing Brain Age tests mental reflexes, memory and thinking speed. You interact with the Nintendo DS by writing, drawing and speaking. How well you perform on these games determines your “Brain Age”, the lower score the better. The lowest Brain Age you can have is twenty, so you’ll imagine my disappointment when I first played, and found out my Brain Age was eighty. But as I practiced and got better at the games, my Brain Age came down to respectable levels (though I never managed to be as good as Gena):

Some of the Brain Age games

There are over a dozen different games in Brain Age. Here are a few.

In “Syllable Count“, you count the number of syllables in a sentence, then write the answer as quickly as you can. Brain Age then counts the number of syllables, and as in the screen below, shows your result.

Calculations” and “Voice Calculation“: Depending on the game, either write or speak your answers to simple math questions. The goal is to complete twenty or one hundred calculations as fast as possible. Your score is determined by your speed, and you’re penalized by wrong answers.

Another option with the calculation games involves Brain Age’s “Multiplayer Calculation Battle“, where players compete wirelessly in a head-to-head 30-count “Calculations” game. As long as everyone has their own Nintendo DS, you only need a single Brain Age game to allow up to 16 people to play.

When playing “Head Count“, you watch people moving in and out of a house. Keep track of how many went in and how many left. At the end of this, tell Brain Age how many people are left in the house:

Sudoku on the Nintendo DS

The logic puzzle sweeping nations, Sudoku is a game that’s been around for years, but recently has surged in popularity. Along with the standard games found in Brain Age, you can also play Sudoku. There are 120 different Sudoku puzzles for you to play, with three levels of difficulty. Individual Sudoku games can be saved to a player’s profile to be completed later.

Brain Age perks

The instruction book begins with a detailed section on “Getting the Most out of Your Prefrontal Cortex“. I laughed out loud when I first saw this. Score one for originality, another for education, and one for geek-cool.

As you progress in Brain Age (denoted by accumulating stamps, marking times when you’ve checked your Brain Age), you are given additional puzzles or the ability to unlock certain aspects of the game. This time-release of game secrets is good motivation for repeat play. Below is a photo showing game history, marking the times when the player completed a Brain Age check:

An aspect I particularly liked is the ability to chart your progress over time: For each game in the system, you can look at your past scores as far back as two months, and get a graph of your progress (or lack thereof). You can also overlay players’ graphs and compare.

Brain Age problems

There’s a small learning curve with voice and handwriting recognition. The game doesn’t learn from your voice or writing – it interprets what you speak and write based on a preset list. So it had no problem with the way I drew numbers one through ten, but couldn’t recognize the number eight as drawn by my wife. When she altered the way she drew it, things worked. In my case, recognition problems happened most when drawing the number ‘2’, and when speaking the word “blue”. (For the record, I have a standard Midwestern accent, but horrible, horrible handwriting.) This isn’t a major issue, and is overcome with practice, but is something users should be aware of at the start to prevent frustration with certain games.


Brain Age exercises your brain to improve wits and learning. What have I learned? I’ve learned Brain Age’s randomized puzzles and reflex testing mixed with fast logical thinking give replayability and fun for all ages. I learned games don’t always need to be judged on graphics and sound; Simplicity allows us to immediately play, without the game itself getting in the way.

The most important thing I learned is Brain Age for the Nintendo DS is a good, fun, fast game, one I’d recommend to anyone. And it’s not just me saying this. Take it from my wife, she’s pretty darn smart. And I can prove it.

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