The last Big Brain Academy came out 14 years ago, and that means it has been 14 years since I derived my self-worth from being able to pop numbered balloons in descending order. With Big Brain Academy: Brain vs Brain, it feels like the series has never been away, but I’m not entirely sure that’s for the best.
The basic premise is the same – there are five different skill types (Compute, Analyse, Visualize, Identify, and Memorize), and four different games for each skill. You can practise these skills individually, choosing the game and attempting to beat your own high score. You can also take a test, in which case you’ll play one randomly selected game per category and attempt to beat your own high score. You get it. You do brain puzzles and get a score, then make that number more bigger so you feel more smarter.
For new players, I’ll get onto these games specifically in a moment, but for returning brainiacs, you’ll find the same experience here. Like, exactly the same. In every category bar Memorise, three of the four game types are just the three that were in Wii Degree – for Memorise, Face Case has been ditched, meaning no more ugly children to look at. Unless ugly children live in your own house, I guess.
While there was a Versus Mode in the original and Party Mode in Wii Degree, Big Brain Academy has always been a game you ultimately play against yourself. In my first ever exercise here, I earned a Platinum medal and was ready to write the game off a bit too easy. It’s nice to be told you’re smart, but we all want a challenge, right? Luckily, in my next two games I won Silver medals, then went up to a Gold – but even that felt like a failure in a world where Platinum exists.
This is where Big Brain Academy’s genius lies – it was always my fault I failed. Because it rewards speed as much as it does correct answers. It encourages you to rush, and as a result you become extremely invested in whether there are more cartoon flies or more cartoon grasshoppers in any given picture. Losses never feel cheap, because you’re in complete control. The games have enough variety that you soon develop favourites, and by leaving everything in your hands, the game avoids the frustration that this genre can bring.
If you’d like to go slow and get every answer correct, you can. You’re timed against the whole game, not each individual round, so you can take as long as you like as you get used to things and build up your confidence. You can also ride your luck a bit and favour speed and instinct, hoping you get enough right to cover for any mistakes that approach might lead to.
As the subtitle Brain vs Brain suggests though, you are not your biggest opponent this time around. Wii Degree’s Party Mode is back, but as well as playing it docked with a Joy-Con, you can also play head to head on the touchscreen. Because of this, competition feels a lot more intense, and after trying both modes out it’s hard to recommend Joy-Con play for either single-player or multiplayer – it has clearly been built for ferociously tapping the screen with your fingers.
There’s also an online mode where you face off against ghosts (like Mario Kart time trials) in a challenge to raise your rank. It’s a great way to introduce online elements, but it’s the one time blaming the game rather than your own brain becomes a legitimate complaint. The screen size is effectively reduced to half in order to accommodate the ghost, and misclicking becomes far too easy.
As for the games themselves, it’s disappointing that in 14 years, only six new games are being brought into the series. In some ways, I get it. If you brought back Big Brain Academy without Train Turn, Covered Cages, and Mallet Math, you haven’t brought back Big Brain Academy. With many having originated on the tap screen of the DS, they’re already suited to the Switch’s touchscreen, and none of the new games are bad, but 14 years on, it just feels like the same game. I’ll leave it up to you whether that’s a good or bad thing.
The newcomers, including memorising numbers on a calculator or figuring which smaller shapes can be assembled into a bigger shape, feel like classic Big Brain Academy – but then if the new games fit in so well, why is the game leaning on old favourites so much?
Overall, Brain vs Brain is exactly what you’d expect of Big Brain Academy on the Nintendo Switch. It doesn’t feel like it has changed all that much in 14 years, but maybe it didn’t need to. It’s the most gamified title in this genre, and to mess with it too much might have diminished the appeal, but it’s a little disappointing that a decade and a half of studying leads to the same B+ grade.
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