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Review: Dr. Kawashima’s Devilish Brain Training: Can You Stay Focused? (Nintendo 3DS)By JunkSnail At 28.07.2017 12:12

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For those unfamiliar with the classic Brain Training formula, or for those who need a quick catch up (it has been a decade, after all…), a refresher course: the game stars the real life neuroscientist, Dr. Kawashima in now-trademark polygonal form, and challenges the player to complete a number of brain-bending tasks each day in order to come up with a "Brain Age" - in other words, the age the player is expected to be judging by their performance in-game. Better performance means a lower age, and the aim is to hit the minimum Brain Age of 20. It's an easy-to-understand mechanic that, in tangent with the simplicity of the tasks at hand, breaks the barrier between traditional "game feel" and casual play with ease.

It's a concept that served both previous instalments fantastically, so it's extremely confusing to see that Devilish Brain Training does away with so much of it. Gone is the tried-and-tested Brain Age mechanic, now replaced with a more traditional letter grade that gradually goes up over multiple days of play. While it's a more recognisable scoring system indeed, it also lacks the incitement for the player to constantly better themselves, which was one of the original game's main draws.

In place of the traditional brainteasers are the titular Devilish Brain Training exercises, built - as the doctor himself explains at the beginning - to improve concentration and working memory. They are immediately more difficult than the originals, with recognisable mini-games like Calculations x20 (a simple set of 20 sums to be completed as fast as possible) being replaced with Devilish Calculations - more of the same, but this time the player is tasked with remembering the answer from up to four questions ago. Keeping tabs on several numbers (or shapes and words, as later mini-games require) is much more taxing than it sounds, and it's not rare to come out of a training exercise feeling genuinely exhausted.

Other mini-games include variations on the "shell game," where objects are hidden behind moving blocks and it's left to the player to keep tabs on multiple movements at once, and another that asks for sentences to be read aloud, remembering a specific word from each one. Each mini-game is deceptively challenging, and it's made all the more so thanks to a dynamically-shifting difficulty.

Performing well in each game causes Kawashima-san to respond by upping the difficulty (so, remembering more numbers in Devilish Calculations, or having more objects to watch in Devilish Mice, the aforementioned take on the "shell game"), and likewise things become easier for those who are struggling. It's a fantastic system that genuinely boosts the accessibility and replayability.

It's a shame, then, that so much of the rest is so inaccessible in comparison to the Brain Training predecessors. Gone is the clean, sterile presentation of the DS days, replaced with a library theme that's simultaneously too dark and too cluttered. The short sentences that could be clicked through at a fast pace have also been done away with, in favour of fully-voiced dialogue for speeches about working memory that are frankly too long and don't add particularly much to the experience (these can be fast-forwarded, although the game neglects to mention this until a fair way in). Even the familiar gameplay style, which saw the console being held sideways like a book, is absent - the entire thing smacks of an attempt to modernise an ageing formula, but these clumsy changes ultimately affect a lot of the charm that the originals were lauded for.

There are tastes of the original still present - some more traditional mini-games can be unlocked, including classics like Calculations x20 and new arrivals like Block-Head, an Othello-style game with a puzzle twist, and these are by far the highlight - simplistic, easy to dive into, and genuinely fun, unlike the stressful challenges of Devilish Brain Training. There are also cool-down games to unlock, not unlike the Dr. Mario-style unlockable of the original instalments, although they amount to little more than paper-thin distractions.

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[i]Dr. Kawashima's Devilish Brain Training: Can You Stay Focused?[/i] is an admirable attempt to mix up the formula, and there are glimmers of greatness here - the dynamically adjusting difficulty is fantastic, for instance - but it just can't measure up to its predecessors and the new ground that they broke. The decision to wait five years to publish the game in Europe is to its detriment, too, making the formula seem even more dated than before. It does its job well, but it lacks [i]Brain Training[/i]'s focus and accessibility, making it a difficult recommendation compared to the past iterations.



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