As brain training games go, Big Brain Academy: Brain vs Brain is rather playful. The likes of Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training treat everything like a workout: a structured daily routine, with a focus on tracking progress and measuring those gains; Big Brain Academy is more an assortment of brain training-style minigames for you to play as you see fit, with a dash of score-chasing and party game. Whether that’s better or worse will depend on what you want out of it, but for a fun collection of light-hearted logic puzzles, Brain vs Brain hits the mark.
The minigames in Big Brain Academy: Brain vs Brain are simple and to the point: popping numbered balloons in ascending order, memorising sequences of flash cards, identifying the correct piece to fill in a blank space on a canvas full of moving shapes, and the like. Twenty games span five different categories of cognitive function—memory, computation, analysis, identification, and visualisation—providing sufficient variety and breadth of skills to test. Each individual round within a game usually lasts a couple of seconds—depending on how quickly you can solve the puzzle before you—with the game getting progressively harder with each successful round. Quickly popping balloons in order when you’re dealing with whole numbers that are close together, but throw negatives and fractions into the mix, with the pressure of a ticking clock, and things get tougher.
That, really, is the core of Brain Age Academy. Different modes present these minigames in slightly different ways, but the rapid-fire brain-training puzzles are the foundation of all of them. Playing solo, the goal is to earn as many points as possible in the allotted time, with the difficulty gradually increasing or decreasing as you pass it fail rounds. Higher difficulties net more points, but you also lose points for any mistakes—so it’s a game of precision as much as speed.
Here, you can practice any individual minigame as you see fit, with prizes for scoring well and medals to earn in each game fit crossing certain point thresholds—so while it’s described as a “practice” mode, it’s as goal-driven as any other. Then there’s the test, which throws five random games at you, one from each category, and uses the results to assign you a “Brain Grade” and a rough assessment of where your intellectual strengths and weaknesses lie. It’s not detailed and there isn’t any sort of progress tracking beyond recording your high score, so it’s not a great option for any sort of actual training, but for idle fun trying to best your own high scores, tests do the trick.
But the real attraction in Brain Age Academy: Brain vs Brain, as the name suggests, is in its multiplayer modes, which turn it into a fun, slightly frantic party game. In local multiplayer, two to four players go head to head in a series of randomly chosen games, with points awarded based on who solves each successive puzzle quickest. First person to reach 100 points wins the game, and then it’s on to the next one, to try to determine who in the room has the biggest brain of all. It’s still a cognition-based puzzle game, but with the added chaos and energy of a party game—reminiscent of Bananagrams, only with brain training instead of word games. It’s a mix that works surprisingly well. In a nice touch, each player can individually select their difficulty level for each game, so players of all ages and ability levels can play on a relatively even field.
There’s also an asynchronous online mode, pitting you against the ghosts of friends, family, and random other players. It doesn’t have the same-room energy that party mode does, but in its place there’s a ranking system that resets every few weeks. Beat other players’ ghosts to climb the ranks, thus pitting you against higher-ranked ghosts. As you challenge other players, the game collects ghost data from you to share with others, so they can do the same, with everyone vying for the top spot and the claim to hedging the biggest brain of all.
An item collection system with the decided charm of Nintendo’s experimental efforts adds a fun layer of progression and player customisation over the top of all this. It’s nothing grandiose—doodle-style avatars with an assortment of different hats and clothing items to dress them in—but creativity abounds in the different items and the personality that flows through them. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s a fun way of tying everything together and bringing a bit of longevity into the mix.
That simple sense of fun and frivolity is the spirit that runs through Big Brain Academy: Brain vs Brain, and the thing that separates it from more “serious” brain training games. It doesn’t push any boundaries, but what it lacks in a structured training regimen it makes up for in playful energy and a party game touch. Sometimes you want to meticulously practice an instrument, but sometimes you just want to jam—Brain vs Brain is the brain training version of the latter.
Big Brain Academy: Brain vs Brain
Genre: Puzzle, party game
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release date: 3 December 2021
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.