Ever since the British government stuffed a bunch of BBC computers into schools in the 80s, the notion that tech can be used to help your brain get smarter has only got stronger. While the argument can probably be countered by just how stupid some gamers can be, Nintendo aren’t about to give up on us yet. They’ve most recently trotted out Dr Kawashima for some Brain Training on Switch, they’re now returning to Big Brain Academy. This time they’re letting your brain go frontal lobe to frontal lobe against your nearest and dearest, as well as smart strangers on the internet.
Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain does exactly what it says on the tin. It gives you an opportunity to bulk up your brain matter before trying to use it to win against the stupider, less well-practiced people in your home, with some clever balancing allowing adults to take on children without the adults taking too much advantage from all that brain-enhancing life experience they have. Knowing every line from Friends is brain-enhancing right?
First thing you’re going to have to do is create a simple, albeit exceedingly cute, avatar of yourself. There’s a few options to start with and you can unlock further customisation options as you play. It’s hardly going to change your experience or spur you onto further play, but maybe your search for a particular colour of glasses will keep you going.
It’s best to start with Practice; your introduction to Brain vs. Brain, and your opportunity to see just how brawny your brain is. The game types are split into five different categories, with Identify, Memorize, Analyze, Compute, and Visualize the options that are sure to ruin the spelling of children from the UK.
Identify offers a series of challenges that focus on you correctly identifying – see what they did there? – the right selection based on the game’s requirements. Each of the four challenge types start off simple, but as you correctly answer you move up the Big Brain ranking system, adding extra difficulty through additional complication. It all feels natural and well thought out, and once you hit the Super Elite Class you’ll find that Brain vs. Brain is capable of giving your grey matter a decent workout.
Memorize sees Brain vs. Brain working on your memory, starting with Flash Memory which has you trying to remember as many digits as possible as they’re briefly flashed up on screen in front of you. These get tough pretty quickly, with Reverse Retention – where you have to correctly repeat a sequence you’ve just seen, but backwards – being one of the harder ones here, at least as far as my brain is concerned.
Analyze does some interesting things, with Speed Sorting giving you a description and having to correctly choose the answer from four pictures. Younger players might struggle here with descriptions like ‘Celestial Bodies’, but given the game’s brain-boosting bent, that’s not all that surprising. You also get some classic puzzling action here in the form of Match Blast where you have to remove shapes to correctly match the silhouette. It’s as engaging here as it is in the myriad other places you might come across it.
Compute tests your math skills with addition, subtraction, and winding clocks backwards and forwards, while Visualize also features a series of challenges that wouldn’t be out of place on an IQ test, ranging from True View seeing how good you are with perspective through to Train Turn’s track-laying to guide a locomotive to its destination.
All of this occurs under the watchful gaze of the burbling Dr. Lobe, his ‘speech’ the same babbling chatter as you find in Animal Crossing. The music matches this with a series of cheerful ditties, similar to those found in 51 Worldwide Games. It’s impossible to be offended by it, but it’s far from stimulating.
Therein lies the biggest problem with Brain vs Brain; it’s not very exciting. Once you’ve practiced the modes sufficiently you’ll unlock Super Practice, which bypasses the earlier difficulty levels of each challenge to make things immediately more challenging. You’ve also got Test, which chooses a challenge from each of the options and uses the score from all five to give you a Brain Grade. I didn’t find it all that hard; if you’re lucky with the challenges you can probably gain an S rating on your first try, but I did enjoy its categorisation of your brain.
The meat of things is likely supposed to be Ghost Clash, a mode that lets you play asymmetric multiplayer against other Big Brain Academy players, and which gives you an impressive-sounding Big Brain World Ranking. Sadly I don’t think UCAS recognises Nintendo as an awarding body, but I’m sure you can brag to someone about it. There’s always ghosts of your friends and family to play against, though if they’re not regular gamers I think you’re going to regularly win as higher scores still rely on fast reactions as much as cognitive activity.
If you’re the type of person who likes to crush their loved ones face to face, there’s Party Mode which allows two to four players to practice against each other. This can be quite fun, particularly if you’re smarter than they are, while Sprout Support gives younger children a fighting chance against the adults as each player can have a different difficulty level. Still, it’s a diversion rather than a must-play multiplayer magnet.
Overall, Brain vs Brain feels like a warmed-up mobile IQ test, and even with its atypical presentation from the Japanese developer, it’s tough to justify the £30 asking fee. The fact that it works infinitely better with touchscreen controls also makes you wonder why they didn’t just go down the app store route.