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Game Review

I read once that men are born instinctively knowing how to do three things: Spit. Scratch. And lift heavy objects. Maybe that's why TV exercise programs aren't as popular with males. It's not that we couldn't use the workout. It's just that our mindset is, "Who needs aerobics? Watch me hoist this piano. Huughmmpf!"

Keeping the mind sharp, however, is another squat-thrust altogether. Any man with a wife, girlfriend or sister is well aware of the need to maintain supple mental faculties. Just to keep up. (My wife remembers everything I've ever said or done ... or said and not done.) So I've been looking forward to a new Wii video game designed to give my mind's muscles a little more heft. Just hand me the controller and step aside.

A Brainy Pedigree
Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree is a second cousin to the games Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day! and the original Big Brain Academy (both created for Nintendo's handheld DS) that swept through Japan and then the world. The whole train-your-brain-with-a-video-game craze was kicked off by neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima. He found that when he measured the brain activity of someone who was concentrating on a complex math equation, several parts of that person's brain would light up. But if he shot rapid-fire simple problems at the person (single-digit addition and subtraction, picture and shape puzzles, etc.) his brain would light up like a ... video game.

With Wii Degree, a player creates his own Mii character and sends him into the Academy hallways with up to seven other students ready to have their brains instructively peppered. You start out by taking a "test" that challenges you to make your way through a mix-up of 15 different minigames as quickly as possible. The Wii remote works as a wireless pointer and helps you do such things as pop numbered balloons in numerical order or point out a memorized short series of little critters and objects, each with its own corresponding moo or beep.

Measuring Up
After the test, you face Dr. Lobe, a Mr. Peanut look-alike professor who measures your brain in five categories: Identify, Memorize, Analyze, Compute and Visualize. He gives you the "weight" of your brain, shows you a graph to help you see your strengths and weaknesses, rewards you with prizes and/or encourages you to go to the practice room to bulk up your cerebrum for the next test.

On the multiplayer side of things, students can go head-to-head in something called a Mind Sprint, where two to eight players race to answer a number of problems first. And other sections offer an opportunity to team up for brain quizzes and marathons. You can also send your test and training scores to online friends over the WiiConnect24 service so that they can try to beat your scores. Ha. Not likely!

No BENGAY Needed
Still, I can hear your intellectually superior mind begin to grumble: "A game that's a test? Moos and beeps? Dr. Lobe!?" No, it's not rocket science. And, no, there probably aren't enough challenges here for the money (particularly with a $50 price tag). But, it's quick, simple fun that easily crosses generational boundaries and lets anyone from kids to grandparents grab a remote and get their brain lights a-poppin'. I took the game home and just left it set up in the study for my three kids to try, and they had a laughing, hooting blast with it (eventually drawing Mom and Dad in for some real cerebral action).

And while I didn't really feel smarter or out-remember my wife after playing Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree, I can say that my test response times improved dramatically, I had great fun with the kids and—scratching and spitting aside—there was no need to strain my back to prove my maleness.

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