Dr Kawashima’s Devilish Brain Training (3DS) Review
Reviewing Dr Kawashima’s Devilish Brain Training: Can You Stay Focused? isn’t easy. It’s not really a game as much as it is a high school textbook, presented in game format. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I’m certain that anybody considering buying Devilish Brain Training probably knows exactly what they’re getting into, but the format has some issues, even if the “game” itself is fairly solid.
Devilish Brain Training starts off by introducing you to Devilish Calculations, the first of many new “Devilish” activities introduced. In Devilish Calculations, you’re tasked with answering simple maths equations, but not in a simple way. The top screen will show you a problem, but you’ll have to answer the problem that was on the screen prior, while also trying to memorise the one on the screen currently. It’s simple enough when there’s only one other sum to remember, but it ramps up in difficulty immediately, asking you to answer the sum from two screens ago, and then three screens ago, and so on. I have to assume there’s more than three (a difficulty level called 3-Back in-game), because I was never good enough at it to get any further. You’ll climb or fall in difficulty level depending on how well you do.
After you’ve been at it for 5 minutes, you’ll get given a rough brain age (mine was 60, if you must know) and a letter ranking of A-E (I got E, obviously). Then, you’ll get a speech from Dr Kawashima himself about what this is all about — improving a thing called “working memory”. Now, the game does a pretty decent job of explaining working memory, but it’s not perfect, so I enlisted the help of a psychology student (who also happens to be my best friend) to help explain it:
Basically, working memory is the space you’re thinking in right now — the space needed to process what you’re reading, to hold thoughts in your head. It’s a limited space, so if I told you to repeat a string of numbers, you can only hold so many of them in your head. After a certain number of them, it’s too many.
Long term memory is anything that starts to be encoded from the working memory, it happens as you practice thinking about a memory, it becomes more encoded long term.
The goal of Devilish Brain Training is to improve your working memory — that is, improve the amount of things you can remember right now. So in the example above, if my friend gave me a string of numbers to repeat back to her, I’d do better after having played Devilish Brain Training for a few weeks. At least, that’s the theory. In practice, well… look, I’ve been playing this game every single day for about a month now, and I haven’t gotten any better at it, or at remembering things in general. It’s entirely possible I’m just an idiot, but it’s also just as likely that this game is exactly that — a game, meant to entertain instead of making you smarter.
But maybe I’m being a bit too harsh. Let’s take a look at some of the other activities on offer, because there are quite a few. There are a bunch of Devilish Training exercises, such as Devilish Pairs, which is basically a game of memory where you’re only allowed to flip each card once (twice if you’re making a pair), Devilish Mice, in which you have to memorise where a bunch of mice are while they slide around hidden under tiles, and Devilish Reading, in which you have to quickly but clearly read aloud a sentence and remember certain words in it. The latter one was probably my least favourite, as I find it a bit awkward to speak into my 3DS when I could just play any of the other exercises. There are a few more Devilish Training exercises, but most of them are just reskins of those first few.
There are also a number of Training Supplements, designed to help speed up your working memory. For example, Word Buster, one of the Training Supplements, flashes a word up on the screen for an instant, and then has you spelling the word letter by letter. The complexity of the words increases with each word, but anyone with a moderately robust vocabulary shouldn’t have any issues with spelling them — these games are all about speed. Along with Word Buster is Multiple Search, a maths game in which you have to identify if a randomly selected number is a multiple of another number, and Calculations x 20, in which you have to complete 20 basic multiplication problems as fast as possible, amongst many others.
There are some less intense game modes too, in the Brain Training and Time Out sections. In Brain Training, for example, is Block Head, a fun little puzzle game in which you have to “capture” more blocks than Kawashima. I don’t know how much it “trains” my brain, but it’s fun to play and I’d gladly pay for an expanded version as a game of its own. The issue with the Brain Training games is that you can only play them once per day, which is deeply disappointing, because they’re by far the most fun you can have with the game.
Time Out’s mini-games are similar to the Brain Training games, with the obvious exception being that you can play them as many times as you like. They’re fun little time-wasters, if nothing else, and it’s nice that the game gives you a way to unwind, though I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just quit out of the game and play something better.
And now we come to the most frustrating part of Devilish Brain Training, and the reason it’s taken so long to get this review out: not every activity is unlocked right away. Exercises and games are unlocked based on how many days you’ve played, and how well you’ve done. Obviously because I am… not bright, the games that unlock based on how well you do stayed unlocked for much longer than I’d have liked. It also means that days which brought me games I wasn’t all that fond of felt wasted. On top of all that, it means that in order to improve your rank, you have to play more and more each day, which after a while just gets more frustrating than anything else.
Dr Kawashima’s Devilish Brain Training: Can You Stay Focused? is not a bad game, in fact it’s not really much of a game at all. The game-like bits are enjoyable, but the staggered presentation holds back the experience a bit more than it should. Playing alone, it’s hard to get much fun out of it, but there’s definitely some fun to be had in competing against family members, as there are multiple profiles that can be tied to different Miis. That said, who says a game necessarily has to be fun? What’s wrong with playing a game purely for self improvement? Not all games have to fit the same mould. Even if Devilish Brain Training isn’t all that fun, there’s definitely some value to be had for some.
Very special thanks to my friend Phoebe for helping to explain the technical mumbo jumbo in an easy to understand way. Images courtesy of Nintendo.
A wide variety of mini-games
Some game modes are extremely satisfying
There's fun to be had in competing against family and friends
Staggered presentation slows the feeling of progress
Many of the games are boring or tedious
Some handwriting isn't detected very well