February 15, 2011
Do you ever feel like your brain is slowly dissolving like an antacid pill? What's 5 times 8 plus 8 divided by 6?! Quick! Too late. Sounds like you need some brain training... Or Dr. Kawashima's Body and Brain Exercises, which is essentially brain training in all but name. But where the smash hit DS version had you frantically stabbing at a touch screen like a nutter with a stylus, Kawashima on Kinect has you using your body to solve its various cognitive tests.
If you're expecting a physical workout however, forget it. The titular exercises boil down to essentially moving your arms a bit and maybe kicking or gently flailing. There's nothing too strenuous here beyond that, but then that's not really the point. The onus is really on that big grey loaf between your ears, which you'll be shocked to find is likely a lot older and sloppier than you might think. Our first brain age was 60. Erm... Plenty of room for improvement there, we think you'll agree.
Ostensibly a collection of brain-boosting tests designed under the supervision of the renowned Japanese neuroscientist – the man himself, Dr. Kawashima – Body and Brain Exercises works on the basis that your brain works better when you're exerting yourself. So, waggling your arms and legs about is supposed to help spark those synapses – or whatever – meaning that regularly taking the tests will help sharpen your mind and make you a better person. And for all you know, you may have the brain of a 60-year old festering away in your brainpan gathering cobwebs.
Consisting of 20 tests based around five disciplines – maths, logic, reflexes, memory and physical – Body and Brain Exercises is meant to be played daily to keep that ubiquitous brain age dwindling. Kawashima's exercises are fairly hit and miss however, so some are enjoyable and occasionally frantic, while others are less successful, eliciting a groan whenever they pop up in your assigned daily test.
Doing the official brain test each and every day is really the crux of what Dr. Kawashima's Body and Brain Exercises is all about; the idea being that you take the test daily and hopefully continue pushing your brain age down each time. While you might have the brain of an old man according to the game, that's not a problem because the good doctor is here to help. Each daily test has you doing three of the game's exercises to gauge an overview of what you're good at, after which it then calculates the magic number.
If you're still thirsting for more, you can have a go at Kawashima's recommended tests for the day in 'Today's Exercises', which are chosen to help you brush up on your weaker brain attributes. Custom Exercises on the other hand enable you to choose any of the game's 20 tests and have a go at tackling them at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, which the Doc then pops up with his smiley lightbulb sidekick, Wattson to give you a harsh grade. Suffice to say, attaining an A+ grade requires lightning reflexes and near-perfection. Bear in mind that you only get one brain fitness calculation each day, so you'll probably want to do a few exercises to warm-up before you get on with the main show, and then when you get your line graph and reams of stats to pore over, you can see where you can improve upon your score.
Your arms do get a good workout converting digital time to analogue using hands on a clock face, as well as when delivering moving vehicles to their correctly coloured shelves by extending your arms to create an impromptu bridge. When you’re not doing that, you could be memorising the order of numbers before they're flipped over, popping coloured balloons, kicking mice emerging from tubes, hitting the correct punch-bags in relation to numbers and more. You'll seldom move the rest of your body though, unless you're kicking a ball to answer seemingly simple maths equations or leaning to point the needle at numbers added together as greater than, less than or equal to ten.
There's something slightly patronising about Dr. Kawashima though, who with his smug lightbulb buddy issues you glib advice about how you should never miss breakfast or berates you for not being fast enough kicking ticking bombs away, when the only way you could have been quicker is if you possessed psychic powers. Apparently an 'A' grade still isn't quite good enough for the doctor and his chattering bulb friend.
Kawashima works fine with Kinect, tracking your limbs and head like it's supposed to. Annoyingly however, it bugs out all too often and ‘Group Exercises’ in particular are a barely playable shambles. In fact, Body and Brain Exercises sent our Kinect device haywire, constantly telling us that we were too close when we were about 3000 miles away from the thing and in the local multiplayer group mode – Kawashima's family party game bit – the game became so confused that it stopped responding entirely causing my co-op friends to become exasperated and walk off. Not exactly family-friendly fare then and not particularly suitable for kids with short attention spans either.
That being said, children might just want to give it a pass altogether, as despite its bold and colourful styling, Body and Brain Exercises just won't appeal to the sprogs, which is a devastating flaw. Besides, what child is concerned about improving their brain age or engaging in “parietal and frontal lobe” exercises? None, is the answer to that particular question. Getting the family involved in the 4-player multiplayer games should have been the game's biggest draw, but being as fundamentally broken as it is while being glacially-paced to boot, no one will want to play with you as Kawashima judges from his floating egg chair causing everyone to sigh with boredom.
Getting every achievement therefore, will prove difficult unless you can cajole some friends into humouring you while you grab the ‘Group Exercise’ ones, while the rest you'll probably leave for a later date when you forget how tired of the whole thing you became upon playing it for the first few times. As a novelty, Kawashima is fun for the first week and the achievements pop regularly, encouraging you to sift through its various challenges and sampling the difficulty levels. Still, if you don't manage to conform to the doctor's ridiculous standards and get your brain level down to the sub-20 years level, then you'll never get the full 1000 Gamerscore. Sad, but true.
Dr. Kawasima's Body and Brain Training is an entertaining novelty at first, but it quickly becomes tiresome after a few days. An achievement awarded for playing a total of 50 days seems hugely ambitious then, as the appealing Avatar-based challenges will grow increasingly dull, prompting you to find new methods of self-improvement. Perhaps Kawashima should practice what he preaches, and go back into training and come back with a better score.
The plinky-plonky music is perfectly inoffensive, but the repetitive exclamations from Kawashima and squeaky lightbulb Wattson will soon grate. Other than that, there's little audio to speak of other than the predictable quiz show-style beeps and bongs.
Body and Brain Exercises looks entirely functional with an Xbox Live Avatar version of the titular doctor and each test is made up of chunky, bright gadgets that look pleasant enough.
Kawashima is in need of a downloadable update to fix its issues with Kinect, as the game keeps telling you to step back when there's no need. ‘Group Exercises’ saw the game stop functioning entirely for us causing out friends to give up, but the single-player core of the game works in exactly the way it should. It tracks both of your hands impeccably, but then that should really be a given anyway.
Everything is remarkably well-presented in Body and Brain Exercises, but there just simply isn't enough of it. In all probability, you might feel compelled to take the ‘Official Test’ each day, but there's little incentive to explore beyond that. 20 short mini-games doesn't make for much longevity, much as you'd expect.
There's an easy 400-odd points to snap up here, and if you've got the patience, brain power and cat-like reflexes that Dr. Kawashima demands, you'll easily get the full 1000. The list encourages you to keep playing, but whether you'll put up with the dearth of challenges for a total of 5 days let alone 50, is questionable.
There's a potentially great game lurking somewhere beneath the surface of Body and Brain Exercises, but this isn't it. Even a test featuring Pac-Man isn't particularly exciting and of the 20 exercises, few are genuinely fun. The once-a-day test is worth doing to chart the line graph and attempt to reduce your brain age, but the Group Exercises fall flat on their face and you'll find few reasons to keep coming back for more.