With 197 days of training and a 3-month streak under my brain-belt, it’s fair to say that I’ve played a lot of Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training for Nintendo Switch. In that time, I have consistently broken my score and time records (for the right and wrong reasons), competed in nearly 2 dozen ‘Brain Training World Championships’ and seen all of Dr Kawashima’s speeches at least five times. What I have not yet done is get tired of playing the training games day-in and day-out, and the daily ‘Brain Age Check’ does an excellent job of keeping your training regime fresh and surprising. Whilst not all the games consistently provide accurate results (the Joy-con IR camera can be very temperamental), seeing a full page of my (clean) customized stamps on the calendar page, as well as mental improvements I get from playing the game, keep me coming back for more training.
My Daily Training Routine
Everyday, I will load up the game and go right into ‘Daily Training’ mode. Cheerfully, I am greeted by Dr Kawashima in Dr Kawashima's Brain Training with one of his very limited seasonal lines (it is spring, so he will sneeze every day for the next few months). Then, I do around 3 brain training exercises (usually ‘Dual Task’, ‘Masterpiece Recital’ and ‘Low to High’). All the exercises in the game have some element of random generation in them, such as the sums you need to do in ‘Calculations’ changing each time, or the song you play in ‘Masterpiece Recital’ being automatically chosen from a list of 50 songs. This means that the games don’t risk becoming repetitive and dull after only a few goes.
To prevent mental fatigue, Dr Kawashima will congratulate me on my good session, and say that I can stop now, and come back tomorrow.
I will not listen to him.
Then, I will often do a ‘Brain Age check’, in which I will need to complete 3 randomly selected games to test my self-control, short-term memory and processing speed. Depending on how well you do in each game, you will receive a ‘Brain Age’ score, between 20 and 80 years old. Everyone’s brain is different, but some of these games do seem to be objectively harder than others. Playing a game that uses the IR camera on your joy-con (like a variation of ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’) is optional, but you may need to use the Nintendo Switch Stylus (you can try and use your finger, but writing with it just doesn’t work very well). I believe this is the only game that comes with this stylus and it’s very useful as a stylus for mobile phones and other devices too. At time of writing, it’s hard to get hold of them as well...
For the most part, the games are responsive and forgiving, especially to my poor handwriting. There will be times, especially when writing numbers, that the game will mis-read your writing. This can be frustrating, especially on incredibly time-sensitive games such as ‘Calculations’, but this becomes less of a problem as you learn what the game easily reads. Being 20 years old, I take anything less than a perfect Brain Age score as a disappointment and an insult, and (in typically blunt Nintendo fashion) so does Dr Kawashima! Don’t feel down heartened if you do score a very high age though, some days will always feel and be much harder than others, and after more than 6 months' worth of training, I still rarely score a perfect 20.
If I still have some brain energy left, I take on the ‘Working Memory Challenge’. This is a simple, but brutal game. You are shown a series of shapes, one after the other. Each time you see a new shape, you must select a symbol you saw previously. If you are playing ‘1-back’, then this is just the symbol you saw last. For ‘2-back’, it’s the one you saw 2 symbols ago. ‘3-back’ is 3 before, and so on. If you get enough correct answers (84%+), then you go to the next level, but you can be demoted as well. This pushes your ‘working memory’ very hard, so Dr Kawashima only lets you have three goes at this every day, then he cuts you off. While I was researching for this article, I finally broke through the ‘3-back’ wall I have been pushing against for months, and got into the ‘4-back’ category. Afterwards, I genuinely had to have a lie down.
I love to compete against myself, but I am also driven to keep improving my scores in certain games (especially ‘Dual Task’) so I can place well in the World Championships...
Taking On The World Championships
If you have a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, you can take part in the Brain Training World Championship. Every Saturday, 4 different training games are chosen, with players competing to get the highest score/fastest time on the global leaderboard and generational leaderboards (where players are grouped by age). To make it fair, everybody only gets 2 goes at each activity, with your best score being taken as your result. With data being at the heart of this game, you can see a chart of all the results and how you compare.
It’s important to keep in mind that, over 150 championships having taken place, these leaderboards are packed with players who have done these exercises hundreds of times over, so even placing in the top 50% is a tremendous achievement. The game rewards you fittingly for your hard work; a bit of confetti, a chirpy jingle, and a grade badge. These badges are useful for tracking your best performances, and you can look at your best badges (and all your other great stats) in each game from your profile.
Of course, the intense competition and stat-tracking are not for everyone. If you just want some quick brain-training, there is a whole other mode just for you!
Quick Play & Multi-Player Brain Training
The ‘Quick Play’ mode features 6 different mini-games, 3 of which are multi-player. One is a ‘Quick Brain Age Check’ in the form of rock, paper, scissors. While it is not as accurate as the full test, it is a fun little way to give your brain a work-out (although I don’t believe this test gives you a stamp on the calendar). We also have 2 IR camera games, which also feature in the championship. Games like these work by monitoring the movement of your hand using the little motion camera in the bottom of your right joy-con. This is a good concept, but the execution is a mixed bag. For instance, you need to lay the joy-con down on a flat surface, and try to make sure that there is nothing in the background. Due to the design of the joy-
con, it points downwards at an awkward angle, and I can’t think of any suitable surface that lives in the average home. To get around this, I just hold the joy-con with my left hand, but the small movements mess with the tracking, so there isn’t an easy way around it.
I find the inclusion of the multi-player game modes interesting, but I can’t really think of a good use-case for them. I haven’t had the opportunity to play them with anyone else, nor have I ever felt the urge to. If I did want to play a more mentally challenging ‘Wii Party’ with friends, why wouldn’t I break out ‘Big Brain Academy: Brain vs Brain’, which is made for this exact purpose? With just 3 mini-games, Dr Kawashima doesn’t have the depth in this area for me to want to play it with others; it feels like my own personal challenge, and it does that very well.
There is very little wasted space or nonsense in Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training. In the style of the university that it was designed in, it is clean, efficient and does what it needs to do (and the multiplayer, which it doesn’t really need to do). If you are like me, and have an almost concerningly high interest in numbers, competing, and competing with numbers, then this game can become a staple part of your daily routine. Outside of playing Dr Kawashima's Brain Training, I have also felt a little bit sharper at mental arithmetic and brainteasers. As the old saying goes, ‘Practise makes perfect, and training makes you get a 0.3 second improvement on your previous best time’, or something...