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Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training for Nintendo Switch Review

Seeing Dr. Kawashima’s disembodied head after all these years is like reuniting with an old friend.

And boy was I happy to see my old friend again. Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training for Nintendo Switch is the successor to the original Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training games (or Brain Age as they’re known in the States) that released for the Nintendo DS. Brain Age also happens to be the very first game I ever owned for my DS. That’s why I was so eager to pick up the newest version for the Switch, so I could revisit something I enjoyed so much when I was younger.

Not only does Brain Training include games that players will recognise from previous titles in the series, but there’s also some new games to enjoy including a few that utilise the Nintendo Switch’s IR camera. Also included are a few new multiplayer games that will have you and a friend competing against each other to get high scores.

Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training is split up into three sections: Quick Play, Brain Training, and Brain Age Championship (which currently shows as “coming soon”). Quick Play allows you to play games just for fun without it counting towards your brain training statistics. Brain Training is where you’ll do your “Brain Age Test” and where you’ll engage in daily training activities.

The multiplayer quick play games include: Bird Watching, Box Counting and Flag Waving. Bird Watching and Box Counting are pretty similar. Both you and another player will hold onto one of the Nintendo Switch controllers and as items pop up you have to count them as quickly as possible and confirm your answer while trying to beat the other person’s time. In Bird Watching you count birds and in Box Counting you, predictably, count boxes.

I found Flag Waving to be much less enjoyable than the other two, because the game doesn’t detect your movements very well – or, more accurately, detects them too well. Your task is to follow along a with a man on the screen who is waving a flag. You have to follow his movements by waving your controller in the same way. After each round the man will add an additional flag wave that you’ll have to reciprocate. The biggest problem with this game is the Switch’s inability to accurately detect your arm movements. Half the time I would have my controller on the left and it would either be unable to detect where my arm was or would detect that it was facing the wrong direction. Plus, sometimes when it does read your arm movements it counts one movement as more than one. It’s a bit of an annoying problem that has made me suggest, when playing with friends, that we skip Flag Waving altogether.

Moving on from the multiplayer games, also available in quick play is a collection of three games that have the player using the Switch’s IR camera. There is the “Quick Brain Age Check” which is comprised of a game of rock, paper, scissors with a twist. Holding the controller in your non-dominant hand and pointing it at your dominant hand, you must lose or win a rock, paper, scissors battle based on what the Switch screen is asking. For example, if the screen is showing a rock and the words “try to lose,” you will, while the camera is pointing at your hand, make your hand in the shape of scissors. You’ll do this twenty to thirty times until the end of the game.

The other two games include a calculations game where you solve simple maths problems that you can do with one hand (as the IR camera will be reading your hand as answers). The final game is a hand matching game where you’ll be shown certain hand gestures that you’ll try to repeat as quickly as possible. The IR camera games are a unique addition to the series and they actually work pretty well – so long as the room you’re playing in isn’t too bright and you’re not sitting next to anyone who gives off body heat.

The main bulk of Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training for Nintendo Switch, though, is of course its single player Brain Training mode. In here, there are still a few additional options for mini games. When you first go into the game you’ll notice that many of the games are unavailable. Each day that you train you’ll unlock a brand new game to play along with any of the previous games that you’ve unlocked. Some of these games include quick calculations where you’ll solve some simple maths problems, the old fashioned way by writing down the answers on the Switch’s touch screen; piano training where you’ll play a short song on the piano to the best of your ability; and a multi-tasking game where you’ll try and touch the biggest number in a series of number problems while also helping a stick man to jump over hurdles. There’s a few more games, of course, all of which test your brain in different ways.

If there’s one big problem with Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training for Nintendo Switch however, it’s the number and letter recognition. This has always been an occasional issue even on the original DS, but never quite as bad as what I’ve dealt with when playing on the Switch. Dr. Kawashima seems to hate my 5s as well as my 6s, 7s and 9s. And this can cause huge problems. In a game that relies on your input, getting stuck for 10-20 seconds trying to write a perfect ‘5’ is more than a bit frustrating. There is a setting that you can change if you write your ‘ in two strokes rather in one, but I write mine in one stroke so this didn’t help me at all. I’ve tried writing my numbers with my finger as well as with a stylus pen and either way, Dr. Kawashima has got it in for many of my numbers.

The number of games is also a bit disappointing seeing as there were so many games in the previous titles that could have been incorporated into this one, so it really does start to feel repetitive fairly quickly. There’s still enough to keep you occupied though: a daily dose of training as soon as I wake up has quickly become a favourite new routine, and I’m loving working on the Sudoku problems or playing the Puyo-Puyo like Germ Buster minigame before bed.

All things considered, Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training for Nintendo Switch certainly isn’t as good as its predecessors. With its letter and number recognition problems and the Switch’s controllers not detecting arm movements accurately, there are some minigames that players will definitely be put off by. But its unique new additions that utilise the Switch’s IR camera are a real joy to play – and more than anything, even if it’s not perfect, it’s just lovely to have Dr. Kawashima on the Switch at last.

Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training for Nintendo Switch is available on, er, Nintendo Switch.

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