Maths and puzzles are great. Sudoku? Fun. Garam? Fun. Calculations? Fun.
Dr. Kawashima knew this, and that’s why he put his name to Brain Training on Nintendo DS, which went on to sell over 19 million copies. That caused a lot of people to sit up and notice, including researchers who found the effects of brain training aren’t as clear cut as Dr. Kawashima made out. Performing maths puzzles will increase your speed at math puzzles, but it’s not clear that this ability will cross over to other cognitive domains. Brain science is hard!
So, you shouldn’t go into Dual Brain Calculation, a Brain Training-like game, expecting any medical or long-term benefits. But should you expect any fun? Well yes and no.
The joy of Brain Training was always the relaxed element to it. You held the DS like a book and completed puzzles. Some against the clock; some at a relaxed pace. It was like filling a crossword. Something about it felt so sophisticated – it was the perfect game to accompany a cup of tea and a biscuit. Dual Brain Calculation adds a lot more stress – it’s a game to play with a Red Bull and a Boost.
The premise is rather simple, although based on a neurological myth about right and left sides of the brain. Dual Brain Calculation has six different types of activities, all involving numbers. They range from simple calculations to connecting numbers that add up to ten, to finding multiples. You must carry out these activities at the same time as pressing L or R to stop a meter at the bottom of the screen in the correct position. Get it wrong and there’s a time penalty. I guess the thinking goes that juggling two tasks at once will train both sides of your brain. It’s all very hectic.
It tracks high scores and has levelling up and leaderboards to get on if that’s your kind of thing. The problem is that it’s a bit too shallow to keep your interest for long and the timer stopping is more annoying than fun. It’s a game of juggling and running. I just wanted to concentrate on one task.
It’s also amazing that despite how the Switch and DS seem superficially similar, the experience of these type of games is completely transformed by the hardware. The DS had a stylus, and inputting answers was satisfying and fun. Pressing a direction on the D-pad is a fundamentally worse input method and removes a lot of the joy from the game. Heck, the different way you hold them (the DS like a book, the Switch in a claw-grip) fundamentally changes your body posture when playing. I found myself hunched over the Switch, rather than lounging away from it, and so Dual Brain immediacy was robbed of the cosiness that has been a huge part of these games.
The experience isn’t bad, per se, but it lacks so much of what made these games feel like a warm mug of cocoa. I think 6-11-year-old children may find it’s games useful in encouraging and developing their mathematical fluency, but I also worry that the dual-task nature of the game and the time limits of the tasks may frustrate them and reinforce the misconception that mathematics is hard, competitive and only for the select few.
Dual Brain had me thinking hard, but not for the reasons the developers wanted.