The Brain Age titles made learning fun and quirky, but their arrival and subsequent popularity ushered in a new hellish era of sinister doppelgangers all vying for the same super-saturated market share. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, especially when that “good” thing potentially involves mathematics or other tools of learning. It’s getting to the point where it seems nearly every DS title publisher out there has haphazardly fired off one or more crappy puzzle games promising to give your gray matter a solid work out.
By all appearances, Razorback Developments’ Brain Voyage could easily be lumped into that category. Since they slapped a big old juicy brain on the otherwise sparsely decorated cover with the words “brain” featured prominently in the tile, you’d think the game was in fact some sort of mind expanding gimmick. All is not what it appears. Instead, it’s a fairly uninspiring collection of puzzle mini-games that provides fleeting moments of entertainment. Aside from making you actually have to think a bit, the game doesn’t necessarily purport to make you smarter. It’s more likely to give you a headache.
In Brain Voyage you’ll meet up with the (self-proclaimed) renowned and somewhat scary-looking German board game designer Dr. Reiner Knizia. The run-in transpires at an airport of all places, and the good doctor approaches you out of the blue with a proposition to join him on a trip around the world to “broaden your mind.” You don’t really have a choice in the matter – save from turning off your DS – and it seems more than a tad creepy that he has taken the liberty to pack a suitcase for you ahead of time. From there it’s off you go on the doc’s globetrotting puzzle mini-game adventure. Actually, it’s more like Dr. Reiner Knizia’s insipid journey through puzzle game hell.
Your trek will send you gallivanting across the far reaches of the globe to visit 16 different locations where you’ll test your puzzle-solving abilities in a wide range of mini-games. You’ll visit London, Moscow, Las Vegas, Greenland, New York City, and numerous other seemingly random cities. The puzzlers themselves are simply older games like Mine Sweeper, Mastermind, Simon, and Poker disguised with fresh visuals and occasionally tweaked gameplay. Other games involve counting, matching, picking out differences between two elements, and other tasks. To suggest there’s anything amazingly new here is nonsense. None of the puzzle games are particularly unique or original, but their presentation does give them the illusion of being fresh for a little while. A first glance at a new puzzle quickly becomes a game in itself: guessing exactly which thinly disguised game it is and where you’ve encountered it before.
Only a few puzzle locations on the world map are available from the start, and you’ll have to rack up high scores to win enough money to buy your way across the land. Each puzzle has five levels that can be unlocked by spending coins earned from obtaining bronze, silver, and gold medals. Persevering in harder levels will earn you bigger bucks and enable you unlock new locations and play modes.
This pay-to-play unlocking mechanic provides some initial incentive to play beyond the first few tiers of puzzles. Unfortunately, not all the puzzles are fun. Most players will find themselves gravitating towards the few mini-games they like and avoiding the rest, but the game forces you to play the crappier puzzles in order to progress. It’s really a catch-22, since you have to play lame puzzles in order to unlock more puzzles, but frequently the new ones you’ll unlock are just as bad.
The overall presentation in Brain Voyage is a far cry from the sparse visual path so many others brain titles have tread. The graphics are actually decent in this case. Knizia typically goofs around in 3D on the top screen in a variety of costumes and unusual settings, while the touch screen puzzles are colorful and solidly designed. It’s far more appealing than the black and white or muted tones of some entries in the genre. The touch-only controls also work well enough. There’s nothing fancy about them, but they’re certainly as functional as they need to be to play all of the mini-games.
Aside from the main World Tour mode, this package has a few other features. The puzzles change each time you play them, and it’s possible to store any particular puzzle in the puzzle bank that can be accessed from the main menu. For a little variety, a randomize feature lets you play through sequences of four, eight, and 16 puzzles. Single card download play lets you share the puzzle hell with a friend. If the game manages to hold your interest for more than a brief time, it will be in the main game where you’ll spend it the most. Even if some of the puzzles themselves aren’t particularly interesting, it’s admittedly addictive trying to hit the high score in the more interesting ones to accumulate coins for unlocking new levels.
For a “brain” game, Brain Voyage has the style and charm that many of its peers are lacking. However, the whole brain gimmick is just that; this is a basic puzzle game collection through and through. There’s nothing to track your scores over time or measure any portion of your mental capacity. Serious puzzle fans may find a few hours of enjoyment in this mini-game collection, but it’s apt to be a brain drain for everyone else.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.4 Graphics
Better than your average “brain” game. 3.0 Control
Basic touch controls are functional for the most part. 2.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sparse music is forgettable. 2.9
Unlocking puzzles is tedious, and your reward is more crappy puzzles. Yay.
2.7 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.