Published on January 4th, 2020 | by Zorbz

REVIEW: Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training


When Nintendo released the Nintendo DS, they naturally had a slate of software to compliment the handheld system’s touch screen. A lot of these games ranged widely from touch only action adventure games to puzzle games and everything in between. In comes Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training and a revolution of self-development games started flooding the market. The game did incredibly well, spawning sequels across the DS and 3DS as well as dozens upon dozens of knock-offs that look oddly similar but they’re not as good as the original, kind of like off-brand Coco Pops.

Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training is based on the findings of a well respected neuroscientist in Japan. The video game based many of its tasks on the neuroscientist’s research, with the main aim to ‘stimulate the prefrontal cortex’ (add prefrontal cortex to your vocabulary guys because Dr Kawashima says it every second sentence).

Thirteen years after Brain Training’s debut, Dr Kawashima returns for the Nintendo Switch. Does the game still hold up on new hardware?

Those familiar with the (3)DS iterations of the game will find no trouble getting into the first set of mini-games on offer which you’ll complete using the stylus supplied with the game. As normal, you begin by testing your brain age through three tasks aimed at assessing your self-control, processing speed and short-term memory.

The tasks are carbon copies of the previous games – match the letters and numbers, basic math problems, memorise a series of words and relay them etc. If you’ve played Brain Training on the (3)DS recently (and I highly doubt anyone has) then you’ll have no trouble continuing where you left off. This may be disappointing for some. Much like with Pokemon Sword and Shield, I think people would expect a massive improvement since the hardware is so much more advanced than the dedicated handheld versions of their respective series and Nintendo is known to be incredibly creative with their game design. The Switch version does have some new mini-games up it’s sleeve which do live up to Nintendo’s high quality standard, but I don’t think it’s enough to satiate fans of the series who may be looking for more.

Once you’ve completed your initial assessment, you can take part in mini-games to help ‘train your brain’. Dr Kawashima has no trouble explaining the benefits of each game and he even cites his sources like a true professional in the field of science.

Again, those familiar with the previous games will feel right at home with mini-games that include reading out loud, playing piano notes, and solving calculations. There’s even the classic (and awesome) Sudoku as well as Germ Buster, the post-training relaxation game. As you progress and receive your daily stamp for each training session, new mini-games are unlocked for you to try.

As previously mentioned, it’s a bit of a ‘been-there-done-that’ kind of feel. However, Brain Training for Switch has a new ‘Quick Play’ multiplayer game mode to test the reaction time and mental alertness of your family and friends. This is where the game takes advantage of the Switch’s hardware. Instead of using the stylus to control the game, the Joy-Cons are used to test your mental agility. For example, the Motion Camera on the right Joy-Con is used to read your hand movements in a flashy game of Finger Calculations. The motion sensors of the controllers are also used in ‘Flag Raising’ in which you must follow the directions that a flag is moved. There are a few more mini-games to spice up your life and each one of them is quite enjoyable. These mini-games are also unlocked as you progress through your regular training sessions so you won’t be stuck with just arithmetic and reading – yuck!

A gripe I have with the gameplay is the input recognition. I do remember having some issues on my original DS, especially when I wrote the number ‘5’ which looks like an ‘S’ because I’m special, but I find that the recognition for a multitude of numbers and letters has been shocking. For example, I once wrote the number ‘22’ quite clearly and it recognised it as a ‘3’. This does get in the way of enjoying the game as it sets back your progress, especially when you’re checking to see if your brain age has improved, but I’m sure that Nintendo will provide updates to improve usability. I mean, hey, it’s nearly 2020 guys.

Visually, the game looks exactly the same, however Dr Kawashima’s floating head has become more clear, though still clearly made of giant squares. The letters and numbers displayed on the screen are obviously more crisp however, the game doesn’t really have a signature visual design that pops out. Who cares though? For a game of this type, you won’t be focused on how the game looks but rather, you’ll be compelled to improve your reading speed, problem solving skills and brain age.

Is Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training worth it? That all depends. If you like short puzzles, love Sudoku and competing with friends and family, and haven’t played the older games then it’s definitely worth a try. If you were hoping for an entire rehaul of the game mechanics, you may be a little disappointed in this new addition to the series. It’s hard to say whether this game will make a tangible impact on your mental alertness or even your ‘brain age’, but the mini-games are enjoyable and the multiplayer mode adds a fun and competitive dimension that will help with the longevity of the game. Brain Training has certainly made its mark on the family friendly games list and I’m sure many parents will be purchasing it during the Christmas rush to dissuade you from getting your kills on Fortnight.

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