Review: Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain (Switch OLED)

7.5

Good

Feel like playing video games (sorta) while simultaneously exercising those lockdown-fatigued brain cells? How about doing all that with some friends or family joining in the fun too? Well, Big Brain Academy’s Brain vs. Brain on the Switch may be just the title you’ve been looking for. Sure, it’s not quite a video game you play to ‘get away from it all’, but like a good game of sudoku or an enticingly challenging crossword, at its best, it’s an engaging (and probably healthier) way of passing the time. And, when you throw in some well-balanced and surprisingly enjoyable multiplayer, it’s a great alternative to add to your Switch collection if you’re looking for something different to do during chilled parties or digital family board-game evenings.

Brainy beginnings

The original Big Brain Academy launched on the Nintendo DS back in 2005. It got a sequel two years later on the Wii, but then basically disappeared. So, the announcement that the Switch would be getting Brain vs. Brain came a little out of the blue (some 14 years since that last sequel). Although the release didn’t have much warning, since the unexpected announcement, we have seen a reasonable marketing push with several trailers appearing on the official Nintendo channels over the last few weeks. If like me, you hadn’t played the original games – Big Brain Academy is basically a series of mini-games that are arranged in five categories, namely: Identify, Memorise, Analise, Compute and Visualise. As the names imply each category focuses on testing and refining core skills within a short time limit. The Wii version had 15 mini-games (three per category) and this time around we have 20, with each category getting an extra game.

All the games are very easy to pick up, understand and play and the quick, timed nature of the mini-games makes it all feel quite exciting and fast-paced.

In Identify, for example, you may be tasked with identifying the animal in a very pixelated picture which gradually becomes clearer as the clock runs down. In the Memorise category – the Reverse retention game will quickly display a set of numbers or icons and ask that you repeat them (in reverse order) – doing so successfully will have the set gradually increase in length. Games like Speed Sorting and Cubegame (in the Analise category) ask you to quickly count the number of blocks on a screen, or answer a multiple-choice question based on images displayed. Compute is the more mathematics focussed category and games include popping numbered ballons in sequential order, or adding grouped cartoons icons together to equal the number provided by the AI. And finally, Visualise has you identifying objects by the objects they cast or predicting the 2D image that will be seen, when taking a snapshot of a 3D image from a specific direction.

Unfortunately, having written and then read the paragraph above I realise that text just isn’t the best way of conveying how the games are actually played. Hopefully, the images around the text and the overview trailer down below make things a little clearer. However, the good news is that even if they don’t, I am happy to report that all the games are very easy to pick up, understand and play. I actually saw this in practice the first time I played, when we jumped into the game as a family. My mother-in-law, in particular, is a bit of a newbie when it comes to video games of any kind (outside of a few simple mobile ones) and she was quickly able to play along with my wife and me with no hassle. Joy-cons controls are, as expected, a breeze to use and when playing solo or with only two players you can even play the games using the touch screen, making it all even easier. When playing in groups, the quick, timed nature of the mini-games makes it all feel quite exciting and fast-paced. And despite the fact that the games are competitive in nature, because you can adjust difficulty for each player before each mini-game – it means that no matter the skill level of each player, everyone enjoys the challenge and has a chance to win. My mom-in-law is actually a pre-school teacher and she kept commenting about how the games mimicked the developmental games she often employs in her lessons. We played for around an hour together and all had a great time. Later, when I played a few two-player sessions with my wife (which you can do with the screen split in half like in a game of Battleship) we, again, had a lot more fun than we were expecting in an edutainment-styled game.

The completionist in me enjoyed seeing that gold medal shine for every mmini-game and thinking that I was actually flexing my brain while playing was a great feeling.

Mind the modes

As you can tell, I really think the game shines in multiplayer. However, if you’re looking for a daily single-player experience there’s something here for you too. The mechanics of the mini-games remain the same. However, rather than tackling a mini-game versus a robotic AI, you essentially battle yourself. The first single-player mode is just called ‘Practice’ and you are trying to get the best score within a time limit. In each mini-game, the game will start at the lowest difficulty and after a few right answers, the difficulty will jump up. Correct answers at higher difficulties score higher points and when the timer runs out – your score will determine what medal you’re awarded. If you complete all twenty mini-games with a gold medal score – you’ll then unlock the Super Practice mode which follows the same basic premise but starts you off at higher difficulty. The completionist in me enjoyed seeing that gold medal shine for every game and thinking that I was actually flexing my brain while ‘playing’ was quite a cool feeling too. Also, while grabbing the full set of gold medals may seem a little daunting (and some games in the Super Practice did take me several tries) if you’re persistent you’ll probably run through them in a couple of hours or so.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of the games you can then jump into the Ghost Clash mode. This pits you against other players around the world. However, from what I can tell (from my experience playing and if I understand the naming/marketing correctly) you’re never actually playing someone ‘live’. Instead, as you play – you’re game is recorded as a ghost and uploaded. Then when another player enters this mode, their current game is stacked against your recorded version. It’s a pretty clever way to avoid any lag issues and generally worked quite well. Although I’ve got to admit that because it is the way it is – it doesn’t feel too different to playing the AI. And as I shot up the world rankings I couldn’t help feeling that I may not even be playing against other people – there’d be no real way to tell. Of course, you can also play locally against friends’ and family ghosts or even by searching for a specific Ghost ID. As you gather trophies for winning these games you earn in-game currency which will allow you to add unique greeting phrases and even dress up your little character’s avatar in unlockable get-ups that range from plain and boring to pretty fun and quirky. This is hardly ever a big draw for me – but for some, I’m sure it will be a fun little distraction. Finally, you can also run a Brain Test. This is very much in the vein of Dr Kawashima’s Brain Age Check. You’ll be randomly assigned one mini-game per category and once you complete five ‘tests’ – you’ll then be given an overall score or Brain Grade.

You may finally have proof that your brain did in fact desert you over the period of isolation we’ve all been enduring and has been replaced by a bowl of spaghetti and crunchy nuts.

Reasoning recap

Despite my overarching praise – there are as always a few flies in the ointment. Almost all mini-games are much easier when played using touchscreen controls and (this may be by design) but a few mini-games just seem much harder than others. This range of differences actually affects the overall experience when you’re playing online and testing your ‘Brain Grade’. Get a good selection of games and use the touchscreen and your scores will soar. However, randomly get assigned some of the tougher games and that not only means fewer trophies for you, but also a grade that makes you feel like you finally have tangible proof that your brain did in fact desert you over the period of isolation we’ve all been enduring and has been replaced by a bowl of spaghetti and crunchy nuts. The lacklustre and repetitive music and the ‘Animal Crossing language’ that Nintendo seems to use for everything these days can definitely also become annoying. And the game is also over very quickly in a single-player mode and as a language-lover – the lack of any language-specific games bummed me out a little. That being said, I had a lot of fun with Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain. It’s a surprisingly good party game and really caters to players of all ages and skill levels. And even the single-player mode is fun to play through the first time and engaging enough that I can see myself returning to it whenever I feel like a bit of brain stimulation. Last year, I reviewed Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training on the Switch and this is very much a game in the same category as that probably more well-known counterpart. And yet, after trying both, I can honestly say that I enjoyed Brain vs. Brain a lot more and would definitely be more inclined to suggest this one if you’re looking to add something like this to your Switch library.

Good

  • Great with friends and family | Accessible controls and gameplay | Fun in single-player

Bad

  • Short | Touchscreen an unfair advantage

Summary

A short but engaging single-player experience and a surprisingly good party game catering to players of all ages and skill levels makes Brain vs. Brain really shine in the edutainment category.
7.5

Good

Lost Password