Dr Kawashima’s Body and Brain Exercises – review

Xbox 360 (Kinect); £39.99; cert 3+; Namco Bandai

Let’s play a game. You pretend to be a clock, and then I’ll tell you how stupid you are at being a clock. Or how about this: you flail around your living room trying to bash mice as they poke their heads out at you (avoiding the spiky ones, of course) and then I’ll tell you how shamefully pensioner-worthy your rodent-smashing is. Or – this one is definitely going to be fun – I ask you a load of primary school maths questions, and you answer them by kicking an imaginary ball into goal. When you get an unacceptable proportion of them wrong, I’ll let you know how pathetically exhausted and close to death your brain is. Ha!

Brain Training isn’t supposed to feel like a round of mockery and humiliation. Instead, it’s intended as a collection of bite-size exercises to stretch your brain and apply some gentle calisthenics to your body. Despite the title, there’s no real body training going on here: you’re no more likely to break a sweat turning yourself into a human “greater than” sign to answer mental arithmetic questions with Kinect than you are solving the same problems with a stylus on the bus, unless a hot flush of embarrassment when someone catches you at it counts. As activities go, this is only mildly more strenuous than sitting down.

Instead, the theory is that your arm-waving and foot-poking will reinforce the effect of the various maths, logic and reflex routines on offer, allowing you to restore your pulpy grey stuff to the pristine condition of childhood. At the start of each session, you take a test everyday to ascertain your (essentially spurious) “brain age” which is then recorded on a planner for you: this gives you an incentive to return every day and beat your (inevitably depressing) score. This takes around 10 minutes, so while an Xbox doesn’t have the same portable convenience as a DS, it wouldn’t be a particularly time-sapping habit to acquire. Kinect works typically cleanly with the game, and although there are a few “I didn’t do that!” moments, it’s mostly accurate and responsive.

After the assessment, you can stick around with the beatifically smiling Dr Kawashima and his strangely endearing dancing lightbulb buddy Watson for the euphoric music (I wish I’d had ascending chords to mark my classroom struggles with the times tables), or for a bit of solo training. The game recommends exercises based on previous performances, and allows you to choose your own in Custom Training – perfect for refining your weird bubble-popping skills.

There’s also Group Training, which is where the game seems to ‘fess up to what it really is: a collection of good-natured and pleasantly daft mini-games. What we’ve got here is basically Bishi Bashi Special in a lab coat. Peel back the neuroscience trimmings and veneer of virtuous well-being, and you’ve got multiple opportunities for frenetic competition as you attempt to trounce your friends and family. There aren’t enough games that give you bragging rights for your skills in, say, being a bridge and coaxing vehicles to colour-coded exits by raising and lowering your arms appropriately. Slightly sinister alone, fun together, and not really all that science-y, this is the games equivalent of pretending to work in a hospital.

Rating: 2/5





Sarah Ditum

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