- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 2, 2009

Exercising the gray matter has never been easier than with Gameloft’s Brain Challenge (800 Nintendo DSi Points, $8).

The $8 program downloads as DSiWare to Nintendo’s latest handheld system and jumps ahead of most of its competitors through a tempting price point, variety of minigames and aggressive virtual trainers.

Re-created for the latest handheld’s interactivity from earlier versions for the DS, Wii and Xbox 360, the challenge hones logic, focus, math, visual and memory skills through a daily test and use of a training room.

After reading tips about achieving exceptional mental acuity (eat a balanced diet, lose extra pounds, reduce stress, etc.) from the realistically animated Dr. Hurley on the top screen, a student picks either Dr. Hurley or her male counterpart, Professor Stevens. The duo look as if they were plucked out of an infomercial, but they offer plenty of educational nuggets.

A test to establish a starting point follows. As the student works through the timed challenges, he selects from a trio of difficulty settings and after completion is graded for accuracy and rewarded with a trackable point total and grade.

More challenges open until about four dozen are available to — in theory — help increase the percentage of the brain being used.

The variety is well worth the time investment. Minigames range from writing out numbers to answer math questions to connecting points on a constellation to using the stylus to point out differences in two pictures to reproducing a series of directions on a gridded board.

I really liked the challenge in which the student connects numbered blocks on a grid using a specific numerical increment. For example, using the command “+2,” the player moves from a block with a “20” to “22” to “24,” etc.

It was also interesting that an exercise closest to playing a video game, picking specific items cascading out of tubes, supposedly stimulated most of the brain.

In addition to brain training, particularly intriguing is a “stress” mode, which can help with multitasking. Many of these games try to rattle the student using loud noises or being lambasted by a bearded guy while attempting to follow verbal direction. Just try poking mice away from cheese while solving math equations; it’s not easy.

The trainers are always ready to present a fact about what the parts of the brain are for, ask a question based on their previously imparted wisdom or let a student know when he is not performing up to his potential, saying, “What’s the matter with you today? You don’t seem to be yourself.”

In addition, bonus games concentrate on relaxation and creativity while, new to the DSi version, the student snaps a photo and incorporates it in his profile and some of the games.

Although Brain Challenge is not worth the repurchase for former owners, new DSi owners, tween and older, will find plenty of reasons to stimulate neurons in its mobile and interactive format.

Joseph Szadkowski’s Romper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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