I learned something interesting this week; I'm a bona fide genius. At least that's the impression I got after playing this lazy attempt to cash-in on the success of Nintendo's infinitely superior Brain Training. Merely by having the mental skills necessary to perform such insipid tasks as remembering a sequence of eight numbers, I was able to conquer almost all of the game's hardest modes on my first go. Maybe I am some sort of undiscovered, Good Will Hunting superbrain but, let's face it, there is much more chance this is just a ridiculously easy game and I remain the "must try harder" student my maths teacher always labelled me.
Once Brain Training shifted enough units to keep a huge portion of the world's population operating at peak mental fitness (even my normally game-phobic girlfriend loved it) a slew of bandwagon jumpers were bound to start touting for slice of the cerebral action. Enter 505 Games, hopefully shuffling and slightly embarrassed, with its two The Professor's Brain Trainer games - one focussing on logic skills is also available (presumably with Mr Spock doing the voice work). The company has done its best at trying to distil the essence of what made Professor Kawashima's game such a marvel but stumbles badly in the execution, like a clumsy kid in an egg and spoon race.
The game features a mere five memory tests for players to try out, with only four skill levels to master - ranging from ridiculously easy to the, well, maybe slightly challenging. They involve remembering patterns of coloured dots, sequences of numbers, an array of objects (Generation Game-style), and faces, and all the games are designed to make you use the right side of your brain to stimulate the memory synapses. Each level features 20 challenges and they get harder as you go along, with the amount of time items stay on screen shortening as well - just to ramp up the pressure on your beleaguered noggin. Control is handled exclusively with the stylus and all you need to do is tap enough right answers to clear the level. After that, any bonus points you get add to your high score; the idea being that you won't be able to resist the lure to come back and beat your personal best - something that's pretty unlikely in practice.
It's fair to say that the first time through each game, sorry lesson, is actually quite fun, but after that repetition quickly settles in and refuses to budge. Playing Brain Trainer is a lot like picking up one of those puzzle books your grandma always has lying around the house when you visit; you might be able to enjoyably distract yourself for 20 minutes or so but soon after you will start eyeing the clock and wondering how long you have to stay out of politeness. Hilariously, the manual stresses that, in order to boost your memory (by activating neural paths to create new synapses, apparently), you should play every day for three months. To be honest though, the odds of someone doing this are about as good as being able to stick to a healthy diet and fitness programme with the world's best chip shop just around the corner. There are simply too many better things to do with your day than spending five minutes on Brain Trainer, like clearing out the gutters.
Even the presentation is decidedly below par. Despite there being a hint of a story when the game first loads - something about a professor and a robot with a missing brain - this vanishes once the real 'action' begins. While the menus and challenges are all easy to navigate, the kooky style is quite grating and stands up poorly against Brain Training's polished and more mature stylings. The whole feel is of a very rushed product that was shoved out the door before anyone gave it an ounce of thought, which is a shame as genuine brain guru Makoto Shichida played a major role in its development.
While Brain Training still clearly continues to rule the brain-boosting roost, there is no reason why a few more decent mental agility games shouldn't come along to challenge its title. Sadly, even at its budget £19.99 price, this paltry effort is just a waste of money and doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as Professor Kawashima's modern classic - so I won't, goodbye.