A few years ago the Brain Age games were all the rage with gamers and non-gamers. These experimental offerings featured new, and potentially beneficial non-game uses for the DS. Since the franchise went quiet after the release of Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes A Day! in 2005, Dr. Ryuta Kawashima has been working on crafting a whole new class of game to put Brain Age fans to the test in his latest release, Concentration Training. Anyone that picked up Brain Age and Brain Age 2 may have noticed that there aren't really any fundamental differences in the exercises that are offered in both games, tasking players with building their working memory through repeated bursts of short mentally stimulating activates. However, this release steps away from that format, and instead places its emphasis on building one's ability to focus on individual tasks for extended periods of time.
At the heart of Brain Age: Concentration Training is a new class of exercises known as Devilish Training. These eight different workouts encourage the player to block out all of the distractions in the world around them and focus solely on these experiences for five straight minutes. While it sounds easy, the tasks themselves are quite challenging, and actually require your full, undivided attention in order to succeed. This is a clear step in a new direction for the series, changing up the formula from trying to do a host of different challenges quickly, to doing individually ones really well.
The eight new exercises introduced this time around don't completely stray from their predecessors, in that they rely on you to pay attention, use your memory, and are guaranteed to strain your brain. For example, there are math, reading, and listening tasks that feed players information and then ask them to produce some kind of response (a solution or recalling the information that was just presented), but after that things take a turn.
One of the reoccurring themes of the Devilish Training tasks is recalling information that has been buried under layers of other information. For example, the first training that is introduced is Devilish Calculations, a variation on Calculations X 20 exercises from the previous games. Like its predecessor, Devilish Calculations asks you to solve simple mathematical problems, but now you have to remember the answers, and recall them as the game gives you more problems to do. The better you do, the deeper you need to dig to recall previous answers. For example, you start by playing "1-Back" which simply has you answering the previous problem. If you manage to get 85% or more right, you eventually progress to "2-Back," "3-Back," and even "4-back" where you need to recall the answer from four problems earlier, while solving and remembering the current one. Needless to say, this is exceptionally more challenging than trying to answer basic arithmetic as quickly as possible.
Another example of one of the Devilish training is Devilish Blocks, a drill that challenges the player to pick out individual blocks from amongst a larger, changing group. As the difficulty increases, so do the number of blocks to choose from, as well as the number of blocks that the player has to remember. While at its core it’s a variation on the game Memory, if you blink for even a second of the five-minute training you'll be frozen out of successfully completing that group. In other words, it's all about focus.
As you play through the game Dr. Kawashima's disembodied head explains why these types of focused tests are helpful to the human brain, emphasizing how our world is full of distractions. He goes on to say that tasks like the ones that are included as part of Devilish Training help us block out some of the unnecessary clutter that our brains deal with due to constant exposure to information, and build up our tolerance to focus on specific tasks at hand. While multitasking has become commonplace for most people as part of their daily routines, studies have proven that splitting your attention amongst multiple different things at once is actually detrimental to productivity.
The thinking behind Brain Age: Concentration Training is that it is supposed to help hone your focus, actually making you more productive. The validity of the advertised benefits of the previous games has been contested, and it's likely that Concentration Training will endure the scrutiny, but one thing is for sure, if you take your eyes off the screen for even one second, there's virtually no way that you'll be able to succeed at the Devilish exercises. It's that kind of fundamental difference that sets Concentration Training apart from the previous two Brain Age games, making it a much more challenging, as well as a seemingly more necessary collection of activities.
Check back later this week for our full review of Brain Age: Concentration Training.