Release Date: February 26, 2008
With the number of brain development and testing games on the Nintendo DS, you'd think the thing was some sort of medical research tool rather than a gaming handheld. After the success of Brain Training and Big Brain Academy, every publisher seemed to rush to put out its own particular flavor of knockoff. Most fail miserably, but a few manage to make a decent effort and provide a viable alternative to the major franchises. That is precisely the case with Sega's Brain Assist: It's not as developed or fun as the leading games in the genre, but if you're looking for something new, it solidly delivers.
Brain Assist concerns itself solely with the brain's right hemisphere, or the side concerned with tasks like memory, analysis and deduction, reflexes and memory. Therefore, all the tests involve recognizing certain shapes, objects, colors or numbers. For example, in "Character Hunt," you have to pick out the two on-screen characters that are exactly alike, while in "Quick Numbers," you must recognize and repeat the digits that scroll by at various speeds. This particular minigame is quite a kick, as oftentimes numbers are flying by far too quickly for you to consciously recognize, but somehow your brain is still able to pick up enough bits of information to either allow you to get the question right or come very close. Recognizing a five-digit number that's literally zipping by at Mach 3 will likely cause you to pause and marvel at just how powerful the human mind is.
In all, there are 10 different minigames, and most of them are quite enjoyable. "Pi and Thagoras" is likely one of the most challenging games, requiring you to replicate the image shown on the top screen with a certain number of connecting images on the bottom screen, all within a certain time limit. "Touch of Brilliance" is another fun outing and works much like a shell game, but with flashing circles instead of a ball and a con artist. There really aren't any bad games in the collection; it just would have just been nice if there were more to do. Ten games is a good jumping off point, but Sega would really need to double the amount if they wanted to make a title worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Brain Training and Big Brain Academy.
One of the biggest complaints surrounding most brain-training games is that they are either too easy or too hard, and balance seems to be nonexistent. Brain Assist tackles this issue valiantly, introducing a sliding difficulty scale that does a good job of keeping your current test (whatever that may be) challenging, yet not impossible. If you are answering quickly and efficiently, the game will continue to bump up to tougher questions, and if do exceptionally well, you'll be taken to the "Hard" course, where you'll earn points for correct answers. Excel here, and you'll move on to the "Very Hard" course, which lives up to its name in every respect.
Of course, things work in reverse too, and if you're struggling with some of the mid- to upper-level questions, the game will slide you back down to the easy stuff. Of course, if this happens, you're likely almost out of time or lives anyway (all challenges give you a set amount of time to answer, and most provide you with three to four lives so you can miss a couple and keep going) and thus no real threat to the leaderboard. Still, it's good to see a game that's not only willing to make itself more challenging, but also simplifies matters if you just can't keep up.
If you're tired of doing single events and want to put yourself to the test, the game offers two evaluation courses in which to really get your neurons firing. Each course gives you four challenges one after another, and at the end of it all, you're presented with a score in accordance with your performance. The only real problem here is that the score seems to be pretty meaningless, not relating to any sort of intelligence measurement or discernable level of skill. Furthermore, scores can vary wildly from test to test, so you really aren't able to gauge much of anything using these tests. It's all right for a quick brain challenge, but don't hope to read anything significant into it.
While the gameplay of Brain Assist is passable and even fun at times, the presentation is utterly lifeless. You are given the choice of one of four nurses to act as your guide through the game, but they're all exactly the same aside from their hair. Unlike the great games in the genre that lead you develop a connection with the character who's guiding you, Brain Assist just throws some generic anime lady out there and doesn't even bother to ask you to care.
This general malaise carries over into basically all aspects of the game, as it seems like the developers got halfway to making a nice-looking, audibly pleasing game and then just stopped. Visuals throughout the rest of the title are either bland or blatantly clashing, both boring and assaulting your eyeballs, and the music, while upbeat and peppy, repeats on a loop every couple of seconds. Obviously, presentation values don't come to the forefront of brain games, but a little more attention to the area could only help things here.
Brain Assist is the type of game that aspires to great heights but pulls back before it can ever get there. The minigames are fun, but there just aren't enough of them. The evaluations are nice, but they don't seem to serve a purpose. The graphics are decent, the sound is okay, and everything just screams, "We weren't trying that hard." Even the unlockables fall short, as great performances on different tests will net you new icons to post on the leaderboard … but that's it. The game offers single-card multiplayer via wireless connection, but it's a pretty sterile affair, offering only evaluations that are played in co-op mode. It seems rather odd to ask two people to complete a test designed to gauge the cognitive abilities of one person, but that's the route Sega chose to take, so I guess we'll just have to accept it. Honestly, though, if you completely skip over the multiplayer, you won't miss anything.
If you've played Brain Training and Big Brain Academy to death and need something else of their ilk to get you through the day, Brain Assist will do the job. If you haven't played the aforementioned titles, though, or if you simply just don't care about the genre that much, then you can safely skip this one, and no one will blame you.