While the 3DS may be the big brother to the wildly successful DS, it is fair to say that the breath of content available for it is yet to be on par with its predecessor. During the last generation of handhelds, Nintendo lead the charge releasing "games" that fell so far outside of the box that they were frequently referred to as "nongames." This software changed the perception of the kinds of applications that could be delivered on a portable platform, and the series that lead that charge was Brain Age. These two "games," that were released at the height of the DS' lifecycle, captured the attention of individuals looking to get more out of their DS, and in this case they were looking to improve their brain functionality.
Whether you bought into the self-improvement angle or not, it's undeniable how successful the games were, and almost two years into the 3DS' lifecycle, Dr. Ryuta Kawashima's unique software is making its first appearance on the system in Brain Age: Concentration Training. By attempting to put a new spin on working out your cerebrum, Concentration Training ups the ante for the series by honing its exercises on focus, specifically focusing your attention in a hectic, media-driven world.
Anyone that picked up either of the previous games in the series will feel right at home with Concentration Training - so much so that you might find some level of comfort in Dr. Kawashima's disembodied head. This release retains the essence of its predecessors while layering on a whole new type of training, as well as a host of new information from the good doctor. The centerpiece of Concentration Training is Devilish Training, which features a group of eight new exercises that are broken out into their own separate category, and are targeted at increasing your focus. In addition to Devilish Training, Concentration Training includes a host of additional modes, some of which feature classic and updated exercises from the previous Brain Age games, as well as ways to relax after a long day of working out.
The Devilish Training modes are relatively different from many of the exercises that were included in past games, both in structure and content. Some of them are derived from older tasks, like the first one that you work on, Devilish Calculations, but they offer a fresh, new take on these classic challenges. The hook of Devilish Training is to get you to focus on a certain task for an extended period of time; in this case, it's a five-minute workout session. The Devilish exercises set out to train your working memory, whereas the older games were more oriented on challenging the speed of your working memory. Whatever way you slice it, the Devilish games will put your brain to the test.
Concentration Training brings some fantastic new features to the series (awards, StreetPass, Relaxation Mode, etc.), but the same problem that haunted its predecessors rears its ugly head again in this release - the games get to be so hard. It's true that the intention of the series is to work your brain, building it up so that it can perform better as time goes on, but some of the exercises included in Devilish Training are just plain ridiculous. Here's some examples:
- Trying to remember a number or a shape from ten seconds ago while you've been presented with a series of math problems or additional shapes.
- Attempting to identify a group of mice while they are hidden and being shuffled around.
- Playing a modified game of Memory where you can only flip over the cards twice without being penalized, are just a few examples of exercises that sound easy but become exceedingly difficult fast.
Yes, the whole idea at the core of the game is to push you, but there are times when Concentration Training pushes too hard, which can lead to frustration for some players. The game does pace itself appropriately, but it will become very clear when you plateau on any given exercise. That being said, if you can stick with the game, and finally succeed at that level that has been plaguing you for days, it comes with an overwhelming sense of self-satisfaction that few other games can offer.
Brain Age: Concentration Training may not revolutionize the Brain Age series, but it manages to evolve it quite a bit. The introduction of a variety of new bells and whistles, alongside a wealth of additional content should please fans of the originals. While some of the exercises (and Dr. Kawashima's disembodied devil head) may scare off some newcomers, if you manage to stick to a daily regimen you're likely to see some overall improvements to your attention span - mostly because the Devilish Training games are next to impossible if you break focus for even a second. Additionally, if you opt to download the game, it's a lot easier to pop in and pop out of training regularly than to always remember to pack your game card with you. Overall, anyone that is looking for something a little different, yet mentally compelling, should pick up Concentration Training, and be ready to be put to the test with some of the most challenging exercises for your brain to date.