Alas, Brain Age from Nintendo has no interest in defining an epoch of mankind. The game is based around the research of a Japanese neuroscientist named Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, who appears in Brain Age as a talking 3D head, modeled with so many flat surfaces it looks like an expressive 20-sided die. This digital monstrosity informs me that a person doing something is using their brain more than a person doing nothing. Duh.
In order to "train" my brain ("in Minutes a Day!" the game's box screams), I'm asked to quickly scrawl the answers to questions such as 9-8=? and 4x4=? on the DS's touch screen. This is fine as long as the system distinguishes a '4' from a '9,' which it doesn't always do. The voice recognition software also tends to confuse the word 'blue' with 'black,' which is a major failure in another activity that asks me to name four different colors aloud as they appear onscreen.
This isn't a videogame, it's a grade school. And like grade school, Brain Age tries to make a character-building experience out of reading, writing, and 'rithmetic with little success. Depending on how well I perform at the game's tedious activities, such as reading aloud or counting the number of syllables in a sentence, I'm given a brain age. This -- the game's score -- is obtained with "values obtained through functional monitoring of the prefrontal cortex." This snake-oil sales pitch is less believable than most videogame plots.
According to the doctor, a brain reaches its peak at age 20, which is perhaps not coincidentally the age at which Americans are last legally sober. My personal brain age, after starting stratospherically older than my real age, gradually approached, and then dropped below it. My progress proved that if I keep doing something, I get better at it. If Brain Age, with its simplistic puzzles and mindless activities, were actually able to measure and improve the health of my brain, then the thousands of video games that offer actual challenges and genuine fun would usher in a Game Age. Our minds would expand, our hand-eye coordination would skyrocket and we would never play anything as foolish as Brain Age.
THE GOOD: Brain Age includes hundreds of Sudoku puzzles (unrelated to the brain training) with a wonderful, easy-to-use interface on the DS's touch screen. The better news is that there are several other Sudoku games coming soon for the DS, with none of Brain Age attached.
THE BAD: Nintendo seems to enjoy creating gimmicks (Nintendogs) and fads (Pok & eacute;mon) as much as the company enjoys producing games. Brain Age is a little bit of all three, and it comes across with as much panache as a late-night infomercial.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Train your brain in minutes a day: Read a book.