I recently got a Nintendo DS Lite for fathers day. I also got the game Brain Age. Let me first say that I have not traditionally been a big video game player. I have played various games over the years and not found most of them to be particularly compelling. There are certain exceptions, like tetris and sudoku which I could play for hours. What was I just writing about… Oh yeah Brain Age. This game (along with the similar but slightly different Big Brain Academy) has been a huge seller since being released some months ago in Japan and now selling very well in North America. The premise of this game is that you take a daily brain age test. You initially set up an account and provide your birth date information. There are a variety of tests that the game randomly picks three of everyday. You take the test and based on your results the game calculates a brain age for you. As you get older your brain naturally tends to slow down. The calculated brain age can be anywhere from 20-80 years old with 20 being the best. Most people tend toward the higher end of the scale as when they first start taking the tests. As you train and improve mental agility your brain age tends to decrease.
The tests are designed to exercise your brain in various ways. The DS has a microphone and speech recognition built in as well as wifi capabilities. One of the tests is called the Stroop Test. In this test, the words Red, Yellow, Blue and Black are randomly flashed on the screen. However, the text may be in a color that does not correspond to the word. For example Red may come up in yellow text. In this case you have to say yellow. The different visual stimuli are processed in different parts of the brain. Most people’s brains would process the text faster than the color. Another test is the word memorization test. In this one the game shows you a list of 30 random four letter words. You get two minutes to memorize them. This test checks your short term memory…
What the hell was I just going to say?
Oh yeah, you have to memorize the 30 words. Then you get three minutes to write as many of the words as you can remember. As you may have guessed if you have ever spoken to me, my short term memory is probably my worst mental skill. I typically only get about 11-12 words or less. The game can show you a graph of your progress over time on the brain age test as well as all the individual training tests. My overall brain age has been trending downward over the past 5 weeks or so. However, you can always tell from the graph the days that I have gotten a short term memory type test. On those days my brain age tends to spike upward although I am starting to see some improvement. Along with the brain age test, there are a variety of individual training exercises you can each day. The program only lets you do each test once per day. Trust me this game is a lot more addictive than my description makes it sound. The same goes for most of the other DS games I have tried.
One of the cool features of the DS is the built in Wireless networking that allows you to play games against other DS users in the area or over the internet. The Sony PSP also has this, however the DS has an important difference. On the PSP each person must have a copy of the game in order to play. On the DS many of the games allow you send a copy of the game to other users who don’t have it. This is usually a simpler version of the game. This way if one person has a copy of Mario Kart DS up to eight people in an area can play against each other. This is a very cool and money saving way to have fun. Nintendo has done a superb job of creating a new kind of game play experience with the DS. Instead of focusing on powerful processors and fancy graphics like Sony has they worked on ways to make the games innovative and fun to play for all ages. Plus the DS only cost $129 compared to the $250 for the PSP. If the new Nintendo Wii (stupid name but great concept) console works half as well as envisioned, it will be a huge hit.