A screenshot from the new game 'Brain Age'
(Photo: Nintendo 3DS)
Jinny Gudmundsen, Special for USA TODAY
Emails to check, term papers to write, YouTube videos to watch and Facebook to update. How do today's kids learn to focus in a world where multiple media sources are constantly vying for their attention?
Nintendo thinks it has the answer with its new "Brain Age: Concentration Training" game for the Nintendo 3DS. The game is meant to be explored for five minutes a day, during which you play one of eight "Devilish Training" exercises. These activities purport to train you to better use your short-term or "working memory." Does it work? Maybe. The more I played, the better I got at remembering things in a distracting environment.
Here's how the game works. The floating head of Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, a Japanese neuroscientist (who has starred in the previous two "Brain Age" games), greets you from the top screen. As your host and mentor, he delivers Brain Seminars to explain how your brain functions and occasionally he gets silly.
Dr. Kawashima proposes that his Devilish Training exercises may help you to be less accessible to distraction. He believes that by challenging your working memory, you can carry out tasks better, improve efficiency, increase productivity and hopefully become a stronger student.
The Devilish Training exercises all revolve around having you memorize something while another thing is simultaneously happening. For example, in a game called Devilish Shapes, you are shown a black-and-white shape on the top screen to memorize. The first shape disappears as a second shape appears for you to learn. While you are memorizing the second shape on the top screen, the bottom screen shows you a row of three shapes. You are tasked with tapping the first shape while simultaneously remembering the second shape. The round continues in this manner showing you over a dozen shapes.
If you get good at a round and score 85% or above, the game makes it harder by putting two new shapes between first showing the original to you and then having you select it from a row of shapes. In this harder version, you are now holding two other shapes in your head while making the selection of the shape shown first. Sound hard? It is.
The other Devilish Training games are similar, but what you memorize varies. In some you are doing math equations, but writing the answer that is either one- or two-back. In others, you might be asked to memorize an underlined word from a passage you read aloud and hold it in your head as you read a new passage. There is even a version of the classic shell game, where mice are hiding under squares that shift across a grid.
In addition to the eight Devilish Training games, this assortment of brain games also includes nine other activities designated as Supplemental Training. These hail from the two previous games in this series: "Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!" and "Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes a Day!" Plus there are nine more activities designated as "Brain Training" which are a combination of brand new games and some from the previous "Brain Age" games. Several of the new games are versions of Solitaire. My favorite new game is Block Head, where you take turns with a virtual opponent to claim the largest part of a gridded game board.
"Brain Age: Concentration Training" also contains three games to help you cool down after your vigorous mental workout. Called Relaxation Mode, the games include listening to music while watching peaceful imagery, or playing two gentle match-three puzzlers.
Dr. Kawashima fills his motivational lectures about why to train your working memory with lots of hedging words such as "may" and "might." He says that the activities may bring improvement to things like executive function, self control, and prediction and judgment. They might help with improved focus on schoolwork or playing sports.
Here's the bottom line: If your kids like brainteasers, and they are old enough to be able to do fast math facts and spell long words (some have six syllables), they may find this game interesting. Ditto for adults looking for memory games. The main focus of this set of brain-training activities is the Devilish Training, which unlocks slowly over weeks of playing. And since these memory games automatically adjust after each round, they are always pushing you out of your comfort zone. As a consequence, you will fail a lot. For some, this kind of training can be demoralizing and not much fun. For others, it's stimulating to be pushed to your limit and motivating to watch yourself move up a level.
Score: 3 stars (out of 4)
Rating: E (Comic Mischief)
Best for: 10-up
Publisher: Nintendo, http://brainage.nintendo.com
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Cost: $29.99 (available as a download or in a box)