Namco Bandai throws their hat into the Kinect ring with Body and Brain Connection, a game that challenges you in both body and mind. But does this game really make you work both smarter and harder? Or is this just another casual game to gather dust on the shelf?
Body and Brain Connection comes to you from the makers of the Brain Age series, which are a bunch of games designed to exercise different portions of your brain. This new game takes things to a different level by getting the player to perform physical actions with their whole body as opposed to just ticking off a box or speaking to the game as you would with the DS. Furthermore, it will test you to see how "old" your brain is, track your progress on each of the mini-games as well as your brain's "age", and then charts the results for you to see.
When you first drop in the game, Dr. Kawashima will ask you to perform a quick evaluation to determine your brain's age. This consists of three mini-games that will have you moving your body to solve math puzzles under a time limit, guide different colored cars to their respectively colored platforms, and even a charming little game starring your favorite Pac-Man characters as well as the Pooka from Dig Dug. Once you've completed your evaluation, you'll be given your brain's age (the younger the age the better), which is then recorded on a calendar card that tracks your daily progress.
Body and Brain Connection is a highly visual game with a very fluid interface. Not only is your daily progress tracked by stamps certifying that you’ve either taken the brain evaluation test or performed daily challenges, but also each challenge in itself is graded and charted. This graph shows your progress in specific tasks, and gives you an easy to read way of seeing whether you are improving in certain areas or not.
Each challenge is designed to work on different parts of the brain. Prior to each challenge, a mini-intro blurb from Dr. Kawashima explains exactly which part of the brain will be used in the following exercise. These challenges, like the ones previously mentioned, will have you perform physical tasks to provide answers as opposed to just selecting an A, B, or C from a list of options. Many of these tasks are timed, which adds an additional level of challenge as you find yourself working to beat the clock in otherwise mundane tasks such as shape matching, rudimentary math, and color association.
Body and Brain Connection also brings in interesting family elements to the game. There are multiplayer games that you can partake in, either co-operatively or versus each other. Likewise, as you and your family members achieve high scores in the different single player tasks, a Family High Score is tracked along with everyone's brain age ratings. This brings in a friendly level of competition between family members with everyone trying to best each other’s scores.
One thing of note is that this game is quite brutally honest. At one point in a friendly two-player game, my wife was taking on a challenge and did somewhat poorly. At the end, after the game finished tallying our respective scores, it gave us titles. Amidst a booing and jeering crowd, Dr. Kawashima announced my wife to be a Booing Banshee. Had she actually had a controller in hand, I may have been writing a review on a new LCD TV as opposed to this game. That being said, I think that this is where the Japanese humor can sometimes clash with our good old American (or in this case, Canadian) sensibilities and be a little bit more insulting than amusing.
The game is very intuitive. There isn't a lot of guesswork as to how to navigate through the menus or even play the games. My 11 year old daughter was able to jump right in and start playing without any issues whatsoever. Although the math on the fly tasks were quite a challenge for everyone, it seemed to me that the game had a pretty fair balance between me, my wife, and my daughter. Naturally, everyone got a fairly low brain age score as we acclimated ourselves to the new game (I got a brain age of 59 on my first outing), but once you got into the groove, later evaluations drop that score pretty quick. I'm now around 36 in about three days.
This game isn't designed as a long session type of game. Rather, it's designed for more "bite-sized" gaming sessions. Turn it on, play a few mini-games, get your stamp, maybe do a brain age evaluation, and move on to something else. The achievements in the game bolster this by awarding you Gamerscore points for playing the game on consecutive numbers of days and getting X number of stamps on your card in addition to the completion achievements. This "carrot on a stick" method of achievement awards makes it really easy to settle into a daily routine, and even easier as it encourages you to only spend about 15 to 20 minutes in a day playing it.
I do feel that while the Body and Brain Connection has a robust package of mini-games and an excellent way of keeping you pulled in to keep playing, it's only a matter of time before the limited number of games starts to wear on you and you lose interest. Furthermore, it seems like there's an online element that could have been added, much like Your Shape: Fitness Evolved and their online portal that allowed you to display your progress online and even issue challenges to other friends. The mini-games can always be added on to with downloadable content, which I foresee coming in the near future, but taking that competitive feel to the next level could have greatly added to the longevity of the game in my opinion.
While I would love to tell you that after four days of playing Body and Brain Connection that I'm 25 IQ points smarter, I can't. But what I can tell you is that this game does provide some instant gratification as well as long term satisfaction as you track your progress over the time you play it. It provides the busy gamer with a brief moment of enjoyment between getting home from work and shuttling the kids off to soccer or basketball or whatever. And it also makes for a good family night game.
For the hardcore gamer, this may be a game to skip. But if you're a family person, and are looking to get in some good quality time with the spouse and kids, this is definitely a game that you should pick up.