Review

Big Brain Academy for Wii (Wii)

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I’m a big fan of puzzle games, so seeing as I skipped out on the DS version I was really keen to try out the Wii version of the hit handheld game. Now I’m keen to get the DS version, since despite the rather small amount of content in this game it’s kept me glued to my Remote for hours on end trying to get those platinum medals.

When you first enter the Big Brain Academy, Dr Lobe, a small white jelly-baby-like professor of infinite brain capacity and verbosity tries to explain his Academy’s goal of growing your brain size. It seems in the world of Dr Lobe your brain can actually grow in weight with a bit of exercise, with the biggest hypothetical weight being 3000g. I would be highly concerned about someone with a brain weight of 3000g – to get this in-game you would have to be a savant, and in real life you would be a small whale. But it is Dr Lobe’s earnest aim to help you achieve the biggest brain you can, and after a short enrolment process in which you choose your Mii (or I guess I should say your Mii’s face) and listen to a lecture on quite what you should be doing next, you’re given the run of the Academy.

Big Brain Academy for Wii Screenshot 1

Growing your brain Dr Lobe’s way

For all the impressiveness of the Academy’s name it doesn’t consist of anything more than a Hallway and four rooms – Test, Practice, Office (where you enroll and view your records) and Group (where you play multiplayer games). The first room to try is the Test room, since you want to set a standard from which to track your improvements. After a quick glance through the rules of the test types you’re thrown into a barrage of 15 different mini-games, 3 each in 5 different categories – Analyse, Identify, Memorise, Compute and Visualise (all happily spelt with s’s!). Once you’re finished this Dr Lobe tells you the size of your brain, and at this stage you’re probably only going to be comparable to a walrus in grey-matter bulk. But that’s ok; Dr Lobe will cheerfully give you a “D” grade and tell you to go train in the nicest possible way.

So the next step is to pop out of the Test room and into the Practice room and start trying to earn yourself some medals. You can choose any one of the 15 activities to play, and choose one of three difficulty levels. Now you’ll get a barrage of 10 consecutive questions of the same variety and at the end of this Dr Lobe will award you with a score, appropriately measured in grammes of brain weight. Score above 100g and he’ll give you a bronze medal, above 200g earns you silver and above 300g earns you gold and unlocks an expert level for this activity. The difficulty curve is very well structured – earning bronze on the easier levels should be possible for anyone to achieve, while earning gold on the higher levels is an exercise is speed, precision, and sheer perseverance. There is an even higher medal than gold (platinum, obviously) which requires a monster score and adds extra challenge if you feel you’ve mastered the game. No matter your score you will also be rewarded with a long diatribe from Dr Lobe – if there was a way to get him to speak a little less I would have been far less annoyed with myself for just missing gold for the 10th time in a row.

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The quick and the small brained

In order for Dr Lobe to score you well you have to be quick. The quicker the better, as a quicker brain is obviously a bigger brain. Getting the questions right is only secondary – your primary objective is to answer quickly. If you’re a puzzler who enjoys a sedentary pace to your puzzling then Big Brain Academy is not the place to go. It requires a fast hand quick on the draw and quick on the trigger, with accurate aim and lightning fast reflexes. I guess like Wyatt Earp or Cool Hand Luke; they might have been quite good at this game. Don’t let this put you off – like I said there’s a well graded difficulty curve that makes it very accessible, but it’s important to point out that speed is what achieves the gold medals, not really puzzle-solving ability. What I mean is, you have to solve the puzzles correctly, but you also have to be quick or your score will be mediocre.

One thing I haven’t really explained is the activities themselves. The categories give away something of their nature, but they’re best represented by a description of a few. In Compute, one of the activities shows a bunch of balloons with numbers on them and asks you to pop them in order from lowest to highest. The balloons are all different angles and the pressure to perform quickly means you often pop the wrong one because you just didn’t see the correct one. In Identify one of the activities reveals a picture bit by bit and asks you to select the animal that is depicted. Here you can use a little logic too – if you can see some blue sky the animal is unlikely to be an insect or a small mammal unless it’s a tree-dwelling one like a monkey. Or if the blurry image is mostly black and white it’s likely a panda. In Memorise one activity shows you a group of cages, some with parrots in them. Then it covers them up and moves the cages around – it’s up to you to track where the cages with the parrots in them are at the end. In Visualise one activity shows four different animations on the screen at once and asks you to select the one that is different, the odd one out. Analyse shows a spinning 3-D image of a Rubik’s Cube with some blocks excluded, along with four choices all spinning in the opposite direction and asks you to select the one that matches. All the activities are controlled only with the Wii Remote, and only using the pointer, so no shaking and no waggling is required in order to grow your brain.

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Fun for groups or families

While the activities sound fairly simplistic, the multiple difficulty levels do keep them interesting, and some have quite a bit of variety within them in terms of artwork. For once though, there are no unlockables to speak of, other than the expert level for each game. This means there is not a huge amount of content on offer, but what is available is incredibly polished and entertaining. I would suggest this game is playing the same way as Nintendo intend games like Brain Training, Wii Sports or Wii Fit to be played – in short bursts over many days, and preferably along with others. It’s not a multiplayer game really (although there is an enjoyable multiplayer component that pits players against each other in realtime or against each others’ records), but would be far more enjoyable with a group of people (say, a family) playing it a bit each day. You can send your record books to friends via the Nintendo WiFi Connection, so you don’t have to be in the same house as your co-players to compare your progress to theirs.

In short, Nintendo have put together a fun, albeit small, game that is best enjoyed with friends played in a mildly competitive manner. As a solo game it’s not likely to hold your attention for more than a week or two of extended play (unless you’re like me and really must get those platinum medals and an A+ grade – that might take a while), but in bite size chunks it’s a good, light-hearted puzzle game which makes for an entertaining diversion for all ages.

Big Brain Academy for Wii Screenshot 4


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