Buzz Brain Bender
It's taken a couple of years but it seems Sony have finally decided now is the time to launch the PSP's take on Nintendo's Brain Training phenomenon, Buzz Brain Bender. Given how instrumental the success of Brain Training was in helping Nintendo's DS take over most of the known world you'd have thought the powers that be at Sony would have been clamouring for a PSP equivalent long before now. Perhaps it's taken them this long to come up with a figurehead, while Nintendo had the quirky and endearing Dr. Kawashima Sony have plumped for the endlessly annoying Buzz as their master of ceremonies. Yay for Sony.
To be fair, I'm probably starting this off on an unfairly negative foot, I mean if Sony had rushed a Brain Training clone to market a couple of years ago the cries of copycat would have been even louder. Also Brain Bender does make a point of setting itself up as a more casual experience than the slightly serious Brain Training.
At its core however it does follow similar principles to Nintendo's title. Complete a series of cerebral tests, get given a score, practice the basic skills, test yourself again and hopefully improve your score then repeat till boredom or brilliance is achieved. But it does all this in a far more colourful and traditional 'game-like' style which, if nothing else, fits in far better with the PSP's image.
There are a total of sixteen mini games to play, each available in three different difficulty flavours and spread across four different categories, Analysis, Observation, Memory and Calculation. Each mini game, regardless of type, works in essentially the same way, a puzzle is displayed on screen and you have to use the four face buttons to pick one of the four possible answers as fast as possible to move onto the next puzzle. Repeat until the clock runs out and you're awarded a score based on how many you got right and how many you got wrong.
The games themselves are nice and varied and most of them work pretty well. In the memory discipline you've got games like 'Take Away' which ask you to identify which of a group of cards has been removed and 'Sound Bites' which asks you to remember which order animal sounds were played in. The analysis set include things like the maze game 'Path Finder' and 'Power Struggle' which asks you to work out who would win a tug of war between different vehicles. The observation side of things is covered by games like 'Pattern Match' where you have to work out which shapes fit into a grid while for calculation we have efforts like 'Sliced Up' where you have to work out what fraction of food remains uneaten.
The game tracks your scores the more you play allowing you to see on a graph how you're progressing and there's the chance to play each game as many times as you like to try and unlock the bronze, silver and gold awards for each difficulty setting. As you play you'll also unlock various challenges based on the existing mini games which give an added incentive to continue playing over and above what is essentially good old fashioned high score setting. There's also a multiplayer aspect with a six player pass-the-PSP function although this doesn't offer much more than a way of keeping track of high scores in a group.
So far so good, and to be fair Brain Bender does what it does very well, the only problems come when the urge to compare it to Brain Training becomes too hard to resist. The stand out difference is the limitations of the PSP when it comes to input. With only four different face buttons to play with you've always got a twenty five percent chance of guessing right which adds an unwelcome degree of luck to something supposedly intended as a test of skill. The DS, with its funky stylus input, allows for proper written answers and generally more natural interactivity which enabled Brain Training to be far more inventive with its puzzles.
One thing Brain Bender does beat its closest rival on is the presentation. The Buzz character may not be to everyone's taste (or anyone's) but he's actually less of a feature here than you may expect and thus never too annoying. The game also does everything to keep things moving smoothly with short loading times, slick animated segments and an uncluttered interface that never leaves you wondering what to do even on your first try at a game.
Taken on its own merits Buzz Brain Bender is a good attempt at branching the Buzz brand away from its traditional quiz roots and gives PSP owners something different into the bargain. As a PSP answer to Brain Training however it falls short, the restrictions of the interface give it a far more casual feel and takes away from the sense of genuine personal growth that Nintendo's game provided. There's definitely fun to be had here and you won't be disappointed if you just want a slightly more cerebral mini game compilation but pass it round the family at Christmas and it won't be long before someone asks if you've got a DS they can have a go on instead.