|System: Wii||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Nintendo||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Nintendo||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: June 11, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-8||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Tom Becker
May 10, 2007 - There's a slew of strange little Japanese games that have hit big in foreign markets. From Animal Crossing to Katamari Damacy, Japan has the market cornered on all things cute, frenetic, and bizarre. One of the most playable and amusing types of games in this genre are the so-called "brain" games. They range widely in format but generally use humorous or bizarre mini-games to calculate the user's intelligence. It's about as scientific as those folded-paper fortune tellers you used to make in grade school, but can be a total blast. Nintendo had a big hit with Big Brain Academy for the DS, and now they're releasing the latest version for the Wii.
The original Big Brain Academy was released in the U.S. in 2006 and tested players intelligence by calculating their "brain weight." Tests are administered and graded by Dr. Lobe, a computerized pedagogue that looks suspiciously like Mr. Peanut. The tests were divided into five categories: think, memorize, analyze, compute, and identify. These categories are all intact in the Wii version, but all the puzzles and games are new.
To test your skills in the Think category, for example, you can play games like "Flash the Light," where you direct a flashlight over a darkened area and answer questions. The little characters you uncover with the flashlight's beam look like something between "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and refugees from "Blue's Clues." Like a lot of Wii titles, the imagery is marshmallow-soft, but cuteness hasn't scared away the majority of gamers or kept the Wii from smashing sales records.
All the games in the Memorize category involve, you guessed it, memorization. The games are all more or less different versions of the classic Scandinavian game, Husker Du? or the American card game, Memory. The console format allows for greater versatility than in these board games, and players will have to remember the movements of colorful caged canaries, identify the faces of different children at play, and memorize the sounds of various animals. It's a simple concept but, as anyone who ever played classic memorization games can tell you, keeping track of random images and movements can get really hard really fast.
Analyze is even more visual, as players must recognize a variety of things and reproduce them. In "Shoot the Blocks" players have to, *gasp*, shoot blocks to resemble a shape previously shown to them. "Choose the Cube" is equally straightforward. The player must choose between a series of three-dimensional shapes and select the one which matches the one they are presented.
The number-crunching really starts in the Compute category. In "Pop the Balloons" you must not only pop the balloons but do so in the order of number, not size. The games here are much like the games in the other sections but with a focus on amount rather than color, size, shape, or orientation.
Games in the identify category are a bit like the old "one of these things is not like the other" sequence from Sesame Street. In order to succeed and pack on the brain-pounds, players will have to distinguish between fine details in an animated sequence in "Animated Difference" and maneuver objects on a painting to match an original in "Paint the Picture."
The idea behind all this visual recognition testing is that, with time, the player should become more and more adept and get a "heavier" brain. It's a format similar to the one in Brain Age, another brain-teaser game for the DS. The Big Brain Academy series is less "rigorous" than Brain Age, significantly cuter, and a bit less bizarre. The entire concept of a "brain" game is a bit bizarre. It's tough to tell exactly how accurate these tests are, or even how developers came up with them. A safe guess would be that they set out to make a series of simple, addictive mini-games that utilize the format, whether DS stylus or Wii-mote. For example, at one point during Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree the speaker on the Wii-mote will ring like a telephone and the player must answer and memorize a carry-out order. Developers have gone out of there way to utilize the Wii's special functions and deliver more than just Big Brain Academy, part II. It's all about quick, easy fun with the Wii. The accruing of points is the real meat here, whether or not you want to lord it over your "light-brained" friends is just the gravy. Not only are these little games addictive, their softness and simplicity gives them a broad appeal.
Mass-appeal is the watchword in gaming right now. Sony has learned some hard lessons about focusing too hard on hardcore gamers and discounting the importance of new markets. Nintendo suffered under the reign of the almighty PS2 and Xbox and knew the only way to compete with these processing powerhouses was to create novel solutions. When everyone was perfecting the muscular consoles, Nintendo was creating the first practical home virtual reality system.
The simple fact is you can't draw a wide audience with a product that seems too technical, too hard to master, and, most importantly, too expensive. That's why the Wii and so-called "cute" games like Big Brain Academy have been so successful. It's the kind of game that you could see your parents trying, maybe your little cousins, or even your grandmother. It's the height of accessibility and yet it provides enough stimulation and competition to seduce even hardened gamers. Combine all this with eight-person multiplayer, online play, score sharing, and the incorporation of Miis, and Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree could be a smash.
CCC Freelance Writer
The Wii as an Educational tool?
by Matthew Walker
April 4, 2007 - Nintendo has already proven that gamers love finding out who is the smartest among their friends and family on the DS. They have even gone as far as to help us establish our dominance of physical fitness with the Wii. Now, we will get the opportunity to show off both in one sitting - at least that is the idea behind Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree on the Wii.
While Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree is a single player game, the real draw will be the two player split-screen mode. On the DS, of course, you could link up with eight players with just one cartridge. This lack of additional players might hinder the game experience in multiplayer mode. On the other hand, bringing the brain enhancing game to the Wii will prove that console games do not just rot the mind or cause us to be violent.
If you are veteran at the Brain Age games then you will feel right at home on the console. The speed will still be there as questions are shot to you left and right. For the gamers that have yet to experience the knowledge enhancing series, the rapid succession of the questions will feel very similar to Wario Ware Smooth Moves. If somehow you missed out on either of these titles, then you are in for one heck of a learning experience that will not remind you of high school.
In the two-player mode, you will compete against a fellow knowledge seeker in vertical split screen action. Unlike another knowledge game that was available on the PSOne, You Don't Know Jack, you will not be able to peek at the answers of your friendly competitor in order to get the right answer. In fact, the pacing on the game will be too quick for that kind of exam cheating. In addition to the speed of your questions, they will also appear in random order so that you do not feel like you are just taking a make up exam you have already taken.
There will also be new things on the console version, of course. Though several of the activities will resemble past activities, there will be close to 15 new activities. The activities will span five categories, including memory, analysis, and number crunching. Visual recognition and quick thinking are the two new categories. With the new categories, it feels as if Nintendo is trying to incorporate a stronger "everyone plays" mentality to the market. This, by every means, is perfectly okay.
A few of the puzzles have been revealed, and they appear to be a little on the simple side. For instance, five different numbers appear on screen and you have to eliminate a couple of them with the Wii-mote so that the end sums five, three, two, or whatever predetermined figure the game has selected. In one game, players must watch as characters are placed underneath rotating cups and then identify where they are hidden after the objects have stopped rotating. In yet another game, the object is to fit snugly two different protruding pieces of a 3D cube together. In one more, gamers must draw the pathway for a railway. Finally, gamers may have to pop a series of balloons with numbers painted on them in order of lowest to highest. None of the activities require any complex or strenuous movements from the Wii-mote, rather, in most cases, a simple point and button press will do. The inclusion of these simplistic games highlights Nintendo's effort to continually make this genre of games the true family series.
The graphics for the game obviously spring forth from the DS version of the title. Therefore, there should not be any hidden surprises when it comes time to cart this one home. However, even though the graphics are about as simplistic as a few of the activities, they are freshly presented in the early screenshots of the console version. There will be no denying the colorful presentation of the characters and your activities. While not much information is known about the sounds of the game, it is probably a safe bet to say that Nintendo will incorporate several sounds of the original DS version into the consoled version. There was one thing revealed about the sounds of Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree on the Wii; the sound of cheer and praise will pour out of your Wii-mote's speaker.
With so many titles on the Wii motivating gamers to get off the couch and interact with their games, it is no wonder that this coupling of brain enhancing and physical activity makes perfect sense. It will be interesting to see how well Nintendo ports a game from a handheld to the console. If it works, we can expect an original Brain Age game specifically designed with the Wii in mind. Check back with CCC, when more info is known, you will know it as well.
CCC Freelance Writer