It’s true, you know, Dr Kawashima is a real life doctor person – a neuroscientist, no less. Not knowing much about the man who single-handedly put games consoles into the wrinkly hands of pensioners, I decided to do a little sleuth work. Graduating with a MD in medicine back in the seventies, Ryuta Kawashima has a long and celebrated history in neurophysiology and expertise in brain imaging.
Therefore, I trust his hypothesis that movement enhances brain activity, and that partaking in arithmetic, logic and memory activities is more beneficial when combined with physical exertion. Brain Training mixed with Kinect is therefore a match made in heaven; a mini-game collection that stimulates both mind and body whilst offering improved visuals and multiplayer features. If consumers take to this like they did with Nintendo’s DS version then we could have a Kinect-idemic on our hands.
According to Kawashima and his light-bulb shaped apprentice Wattson (ha!), I have a Brain Age of fifty. As a twenty-three year old this was understandably distressing, but as this was only my first official test I didn’t take it to heart. As with its DS sibling, the first time you play the good doctor will throw three random challenges your way and grade your performance accordingly. He’ll then structure subsequent daily challenges around your strengths and weaknesses, offering recommended activities each day. The idea is then to ‘train’ your brain, flexing your grey matter for future tests and then watching in awe as your mental age plummets. It’s a game that incites the need for regular play, which is hammered home by the fact your grandparents are still playing the DS version five years down the line.
To get your brain into young and supple shape Kawashima is after, you’ll need to exercise your noggin in several key areas: math, reflex, logic, memory and physical. As the title of the game suggests, each of the challenges are grounded in physical activity, which the Doc insists gives your brain a better workout. Addition is combined with a penalty shoot-out, for example, where you’re tasked with booting the correctly numbered ball to complete an equation. Or you’ll convert digital times into analogue using your arms as the clock hands. In other challenges you’ll mimic the mathematical more than (>) and less than (<) symbols to compare increasingly complex expressions, whilst elsewhere your limbs become the bridges transporting red, blue and yellow vehicles to their colour corresponding roads.
Other activities swap mental gymnastics for quick reactions and coordination. One particularity entertaining game finds you guiding Pac-Man and Pooka out of the path of those pesky ghosts. With your right hand controlling Pac-Man, and left hand controlling Pooka, the idea is to coordinate both sides of your brain into keeping the pair safe. The familiar Pacman jingle that precedes each game will be particularly entertaining for fans of Namco’s little yellow mascot.
The game rarely demands exaggerated movements, forcing your brain to do most of the work. That said, Kinect still has a hard time doing your intellect justice. The single most infuriating thing about Body and Brain Training is that you can have the right answer in your head, but by the time it’s been converted to movement, which in turn needs to be converted to binary ones and zeroes by Kinect’s oft-dodgy sensors, your answer has been misconstrued as something entirely different and, more importantly, wrong.
Whether this is punching the incorrect number, whacking the wrong mouse or failing to make the camera recognise a blatant ‘more than’ sign, it’s always frustrating. In the game’s defence, most of the activities are designed in such a way that it’s hard to blame Kinect, but every now and again you’ll find yourself cursing the technology for increasing your brain age due to its own shortcomings.
Body and Brain Training also adds the welcome option of multiplayer into the series, or Group Training as it’s called in the game. It’s here that Kawashima ditches the pretence of wanting to cultivate your cranium, and presents the game in what many will argue is its true light: a collection of mini-games that are ultimately more fun enjoyed with others. Under the guise of a game show, up to four players can take it in turns to spin a big ol’ wheel, with different activities hiding behind each segment. In this mode, however, the Doctor finds it amusing to add various twists to each challenge. One variant has Avatars falling out the sky to obscure your vision, while another tries to distract you with peculiar noises and a violent shaking of the screen. This Group Training also makes use of the camera, snapping you at your most embarrassing moments for the amusement of everybody else. Once everyone’s had their go Kawashima works out a winner, who then boasts and teases other players for their inferior brains. This is how mini-game compilations play best, after all.
And at the game’s core that’s what it is: a simple ensemble of mini-games stitched together with fancy scientific words and promises of bettering yourself. In this respect, you can certainly do a lot worse than Dr. Kawashima’s Body and Brain Exercises. For a start, and unlike Kinect Adventures and its ilk, there’s a reason to keep coming back. Watching your in-game calendar fill with stamps of ever-decreasing number is incredibly satisfying. Of course it’s only a certain type of gamer that is likely to stick with the game for that period of time (one of an older nature, I’d guess), but even the young trendy lot will struggle not to have fun with Group Training. Ultimately there’s not a whole lot to it, but if you can ignore the odd Kinect upset there’s a competent brain training experience for those willing to embrace it.