There seems to be a cottage industry in Japan of neuroscientists who invent methods to “improve your brain power” and then peddle them to the public, complete with hyperbolic marketing copy, scientific-looking graphs, and of course a low, low retail price. The king of this industry has to be Ryuta Kawashima, the man who has ridden his Brain Age series to international fame. The upcoming Xbox 360 title Dr. Kawashima’s Body and Brain Exercises promises a slew of new brain puzzles that use the entire body, thanks to Kinect integration. And hey, maybe the game will make you the next Einstein, too. Dr. Kawashima certainly seems to think so.
One of the Brain Exercises producers—unfortunately not the good doctor himself—gave me an overview of the new title in a hands-on (body-on) demo session. Hewing to a tried-and-true formula, the game begins with a short battery of tests to determine how “old” your brain really is. (Thanks to the pervasive Peter Pan syndrome among self-improvement games, younger is better, of course.)
Past the initial inspection, the game broadens into a menu of different exercises, divided into categories like Math, Reflexes, and Memory. One math mini-game put an arithmetic problem on the screen and labeled two soccer balls with possible solutions. The player has to kick in the direction of the correct solution as quickly as possible to score a goal.
Thankfully, other exercises were more involved. A coordination game was set up with three roads on either side of the screen, with my Kinect-provided image in the middle. I had to extend my arms to make a bridge as color-coded cars started streaming in from the left side. I had to avoid dropping the vehicles while also shifting my arms to ensure that the cars ended up on the corresponding color of roadway once they arrived at the other side. The puzzle tested not only my concentration, but also my ability to keep my arms in an uncomfortable, fully extended position for minutes on end. While it was good, goofy fun, don’t expect to play this particular mini-game more than once or twice at a time without whipping out the Ben-Gay.
As is often the case in Kinect demos, the technology wasn’t without its occasional glitches. One exercise required a set of balloons to be “popped” by waving my hand over them in order from lowest to highest. But twitchiness in the Kinect’s image meant that the balloons often started popping before I was ready—I could feel my brain again by the second.
The developers plan to have 20 exercises in the final game, with three difficulty settings for each one. Dr. Kawashima’s floating light-bulb assistant, Watson, will suggest exercises based on your performance, but you can always ignore the cartoon expert’s advice and choose your own damn mini-games, thank you very much. There will also be a group brain-age competition mode and exercises where two players can compete at once. Neither of these were shown at the demo.
Wanna-be geniuses should probably read a book, but Brain Exercises seems like a decent party game—we certainly had plenty of laughs in my demo session. Namco Bandai will be releasing the title for Kinect’s launch in Japan this November, while North America will have to wait until an unspecified 2011 release date.