To help improve our concentration, Nintendo teamed up once again with famous Japanese neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima to create "Brain Age: Concentration Training" for the 3DS. It features a nice collection of activities, although plenty of them are locked away from the start. It's a good incentive to play the game every day to unlock more content, but some exercises require nearly a month's worth of attendance or more before becoming playable, which is a bit excessive.
Separated into various modes, the highlight of the game is Devilish Training, complete with Kawashima turning into a devil himself. As the name implies, these set of exercises are not for the faint of heart.
Devilish Calculations involves solving simple math problems, but with a twist: You're not answering the problem currently shown on the screen but the one(s) before that. 1-Back requires memorizing the solution to one problem, 2-Back for two of them, 3-Back for three, etc. It's real tough solving answers from three questions ago and at the same time adding the current problem to your memory bank. My tip: Say the answers out loud and get a good rhythm going. Devilish Shapes uses the same concept, only you have to memorize all kinds of weird shapes, which is even harder.
Other devilish games include Devilish Pairs, a Memory-type game where you have to pick pairs of numbers out of so many cards. Mistakes are counted if you pick a number more than once and don't match it. This exercise gets harder as more cards are added, but I found selecting cards in a straight line makes it easier to memorize them. Devilish Cups features numbered balls covered by cups, which are randomly moved around. Afterward, you have to pick the cups in numerical order starting with the lowest. Successfully passing these tasks rewards you with additional cups to memorize.
Supplemental Training exercises focus on the speed of one's working memory. In Calculations x 20, you answer 20 math problems as fast as possible. Word Attack flashes a word on the screen for a split second and you have to quickly write it down. Unfortunately in these type of writing exercises is where the game sometimes doesn't register answers correctly. The way I write the letter 'r' shows up as a 'p' or an 'e,' or sometimes the 't' will be an 'r.' I had a number not register correctly in Devilish Calculations. That small moment of hesitation broke my rhythm and I was done for.
One of my favorite activities comes from the Brain Training section, called Block Head. It pits you against the computer to see who can collect the most territory. Territory taken by someone else cannot be selected, so winning may involve blocking the computer from making more moves.
Besides locking you out of content from the start, the game limits how much you can play certain exercises. Devilish games are limited to five minutes a day, so if you really like a specific activity it's a long wait to play it again. In Block Head you can only select one new stage a day, but are allowed to play cleared stages an unlimited amount of times. Other exercises can be played multiple times, but it only saves results from the first playthrough of the new day.
Multiple profiles encourage competition between family and friends. There are also a bunch of awards to receive for hitting certain milestones during exercises. Relaxation Mode features a few activities designed to give the brain a break, like a color-matching puzzle game called Blob Blast. "Brain Age: Concentration Training" is a different type of video game. It's meant to be played in short bursts, and the goal is not mindless entertainment but actually attempting to improve our minds. It retails for $29.99, which will seem pricey due to a lack of content initially. But if you have patience and a little time set aside each day, a variety of fun and interesting activities start rolling in. Who knows? Your brain might even thank you for it.
3 stars out of 4
A code for "Brain Age: Concentration Training" was supplied by Nintendo for this review. Jeff Hoard writes about video games for The Oakland Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JeffHoard921. His blog is www.yay4videogames.blogspot.com.