Dr Lobe is back after a lengthy hiatus to put our minds to the test and bring us a collection of brain-flexing puzzles, which can be tackled alone, online or with up to four people in local play. With a few more puzzles, some nifty touch controls and a decent price tag that won’t cause a headache, Brain vs Brain gave our mind a good workout, but our time in the Academy felt a little too familiar.
Nintendo’s portfolio of trying to make everyday tasks fun isn’t something to be sniffed at. We’re sure many of you will remember balancing on a plastic board in your living room with Wii Fit, scratching your head while playing Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training on DS or, more recently, walking with your digital plant creatures in Pikmin Bloom. Nintendo’s ability to turn mundane tasks into entertaining and effective gaming time is one of its strong points, and it doesn’t stop here. Now, a much-loved franchise is back after a 14-year break. Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain for Nintendo’s latest handheld, once again tasks the player with some challenging puzzles that help to stretch cognitive skills.
After being greeted by Dr Lobe, who appeared in the two previous games in the series, to provide our age, gender and occupation, we were quickly urged to dive right in and practice any of the puzzles that Brain vs. Brain has to offer. With each game available from the start, players will begin on ‘Sprout’ difficulty, the game’s easiest setting. And, if you’ve played either of the previous games, you’ll know that the mini-games are split into five categories: Identify, Memorise, Analyse, Compute and Visualise. Each category has five challenges to tackle and it’s up to you to get the highest score to earn a gold medal. Whether you’re counting small cubes, spinning clock hands back and forth, or memorising numbers that disappear in an instant, there’s a decent variety in the games across all categories. Of course, the difficulty will increase the better you perform, but fluff up a question and Dr Lobe won’t hesitate to snatch points off your total.
Sadly, if you’ve played a previous entry in the Big Brain Academy series, you will get a sense of deja vu here. Most of the games from the Wii and DS version return and apart from a high-definition facelift, they’re largely the same. Covered Cages, which is essentially Ball and Cup, Balloon Burst that gets you popping numbered balloons from lowest to highest, Whack Match, which requires quick arithmetic, amongst others make a comeback. It feels somewhat of a letdown to return to the games we trained with all those years ago for the second or third time. However, there’s a decent mix on show and, for players who are new to Big Brain Academy, getting to grips with each challenge will provide several hours of fun.
Away from ‘Practice’ mode, you can put partake in ‘Test’ mode where Dr Lobe measures your Big Brain Brawn. For those who are returning players, this replaces Brain Weight where you’ll need to complete random activities that span across all five categories. Finish the test and you’ll receive a Big Brain Brawn score, a Brain Grade and Brain Type. As well as providing bragging rights in your family if you achieve a high score, repeatedly taking the test acts as an effective way to earn coins, which can be used to buy one of the 300 pieces of in-game clothing or accessories for your small and cute avatar to wear. It’s an incentive to keep testing yourself, but we didn’t feel too compelled to complete the catalogue of collectables.
Yet the star of the show is the ‘Ghost Clash’ mode. While it requires a Nintendo Switch Online membership, in this mode you’ll be facing off against player’s ghost data from around the world. This oddly addictive mode, thanks to the global ranking feature, pushed us to keep battling against fellow players to keep our fairly modest 10th place. Of course, it’s likely that we’ll move further down the rankings upon release, we’re not afraid to admit. In addition, you also have the option to play against Family’s Ghost data from the same console, or Friend’s ghost data. You can also search for a Ghost ID code, should you wish to compete against those who aren’t on your friend list. By providing enough variety in place of real-time brain battles with friends or family in the same room, Ghost Clash is an excellent addition to Big Brain Academy – and one that we hope will stay.
Interestingly, in Ghost Clash, you can also see who you’re competing against. Small avatars show how they are playing (whether in touch screen, handheld, split Joy-Con or with a pro-controller), what country they’re from, their age, Big Brain Brawn score and occupation. This created a more personal and competitive feel to the process, which had us hooked for longer than we had first thought. A nice surprise, given how shallow the rest of the game felt.
The Ghost Clash, Test and Practice modes are great for solo players. However, the fun really begins when pitted against real-time players in the same room. A notable feature is the use of the touch screen for two players, with each player sitting opposite one another to frantically tap away to score big points. Fortunately, each of the 20 games available can be played with touch input, so it was more like Mario Party than Big Brain Academy here – not a bad thing in our book. Competition can get fierce, but the option to choose the difficulty of each challenge (per player), is a neat addition, meaning that almost anyone can play, no matter their skill or age. Add two more players and each person controls the game with a single Joy-Con. Admittedly, playing with a controller meant that it took slightly longer to make our choices in the challenges, and, when it’s a matter of milliseconds between a win or lose, we fundamentally preferred using touch controls thanks to the quicker input. This also seemingly gave us the upper hand in Ghost Clash as we saw our opponents take more time completing the mini-games when playing with a controller compared to our touch control method. Nevertheless, a win is a win.
Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain recycles much of what we’ve seen before and it still doesn’t have a true online feature, but it’s a step in the right direction given the inclusion of the Ghost Clash mode. There’s plenty of fun to be had when battling against players’ ghost data online, but households with more than one person that can get together face-to-face will undoubtedly find more value here. This is the most accessible Big Brain Academy to date, thanks to its generous difficulty options. Plus, if you care enough for collectable accessories for your avatar, then there’s a lot of replayability to be had, too. Solo players, on the other hand, may be left wanting more as the slim catalogue of mini-games wears thin quickly, moreso if they’ve been under the watchful eye of Dr Lobe before.
A copy of Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain for Nintendo Switch was provided to iGamesNews by Nintendo UK for review purposes