It’s no secret that Nintendo is home to a whole slew of franchises big, small, weird and wonderful. While it’s undoubtedly exciting every time we see a new entry in juggernaut series like Mario or Zelda, the added layer of surprise when the company digs out an older, unexpected IP proves just as intriguing. Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain, is certainly an interesting choice, the last entry on Wii releasing back in 2007. Sort of a halfway house between the mini-game style of Mario Party and the straight-to-the-point problem solving of Brain Training, the combination made for a light-hearted and entertaining enough time, particularly in multiplayer. How does the series hold up after such a long hiatus, however?
Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain is essentially a small collection of puzzle focused games testing one’s ability to work out problems as quickly as possible. The twenty games offered are split into five different categories based on what area they’ll be testing you on – analyse, memorise, compute, visualise and identify. The four memorise games for example unsurprisingly test your ability to remember sequences and patterns while the compute group focuses on more mathematical tasks. The assortment on offer are fun and varied – even those within the same group – and work pretty brilliantly using the touch screen and decently with standard controls (yes, even a Joy-Con on its side).
Like any compilation, you’re bound to pick favourites. For me, it was the analyse group where players are tasked with counting cubes arranged in increasingly complicated shapes or matching the layout in one grid by eliminating shapes in another. Like questions in a school exam, I found myself dreading certain games too, in this case, memory-based ones down to my inability to well… remember things. Regardless of the game being played though, you’ll always feel a high level of satisfaction working your way through puzzle after puzzle especially as you start to notice yourself getting better and better at them.
Disappointingly, players of the original Nintendo DS game and its Wii sequel will find only four of the twenty games here entirely new. While returning games that see you popping balloons in ascending order and knocking blocks out of a stack with a mallet to create the required total is still addictive, I would have liked not only to have seen more games overall in Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain but at the very least a better ratio of new to older choices. In fact, it took a laughably short time to experience every game once and whether you’re new to the series or not, it’s tough to ignore the streamlined feel of the game.
Thankfully the selection of difficulties manage to stretch the game’s longevity a little farther, ranging from introductory levels ideally suited for kids to fiendishly difficult. The aforementioned popping of balloons game for example starts our relatively straightforward on easier difficulties dealing only with positive whole numbers before gradually throwing in some cheeky negatives and then finally fractions. Better still is the fact that when competing in multiplayer, each player is able to select their own difficulty.
Speaking of multiplayer, this is easily the highlight of the entire game, players facing off in a bid to complete puzzles the fastest. Playable in single up to batches of five rounds with players either choosing the games or having a wheel randomly choose for them, speed rewards points with the first to 100 nabbing that round. A blue shell-like 50 point bonus helps give stragglers a fighting chance when someone closes in on the goal however rather annoyingly this extra cannot be turned off. It’s also disappointing that modes from the Wii version didn’t make the leap over. One particular favourite would see players facing off in a race to complete a random assortment of games (as opposed to just the one) with even the difficulty randomly changing. It added an element of chaos and unpredictability to the mix and would have been great to see it return once more.
When it comes to options for the lone player, players will be able to practice on individual games earning medals based on their performance or tackle a five-round test revealing their brain weight and highlighting areas to improve upon. The game also includes the option to race the ghosts of others online, a neat idea and arguably the best mode in terms of retention power. All in all though, what’s here feels rather safe with little in the way of surprises and long term appeal. Once I’d taken the test a few times, beaten some brainiacs online and worked through earning medals for each game, I felt I’d done everything I wanted to. Even the unlockable extra mode didn’t pull me back for more playthroughs of the same games.
While visually the game features the same cartoony, simplistic look of the originals (albeit this time in HD), I do appreciate the cute avatar characters that reside toward the bottom of the screen as you work your way through each game. Unlocking customisations like space helmets or cat ears offers a neat reward for continued play although the rate at which you earn can feel a tad slow especially considering how many there are.
Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain delivers an enjoyable – if familiar – assortment of challenging games for all ages that shine best when competing with others. Unfortunately, a general lack of content means you’ll see everything it has to offer within a day or two, mode variety stretching your milage maybe a little farther. A fun, if short-lived experience.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo