Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Amazing Brain Train Review

The Amazing Brain Train, developed and published by Grubby Games.
The Good: Challenging and well-designed mini-games, story-driven quest mode
The Not So Good: Only 15 mini-games means lots of repetition, difficulty ramps up very quickly
What say you? Your brain will get a workout, at least for a little while, in this collection of logic games: 5/8

With our ever-increasing dependence on non-renewable resources, a variety of alternatives have been proposed before we deplete our existing supplies and plunge into darkness. From crop-based ethanol to hydrogen, scientists are on the lookout for the next great supply of energy. One potential source that has yet to be tapped is brain power, a forgotten reserve that has been thankfully highlighted in The Amazing Brain Train. This game highlights a brain-powered train, capable of delivering animals and their assorted possession across the country simply by completing logic-based puzzles. Why haven’t we heard about this transportation method before? I blame Al Gore and his Internet. In any event, how does this collection of mini-games stack up against the rest of the genre?

The Amazing Brain Train continues the cartoon theme and music from other Professor Fizzwizzle-themed games. Like those other titles, The Amazing Brain Train is rendered in 2-D, but the level of detail is fairly high and the result is some pleasing visuals. The game focuses mostly on animals and presents some good models that are manipulated during gameplay. The straightforward interface makes the game easy to play and appropriate for all skill levels. As I’ve said in the past, I would much rather have a good-looking 2-D game than an atrocious-looking 3-D game, so I’m fine with the visual presentation of The Amazing Brain Train. In terms of sound, each game comes with an average amount of effects: the game certainly is not as aurally chaotic as FizzBall, and the sporadic nature of the sound design does make The Amazing Brain Train seem more lifeless. The music is enjoyable, however, so overall the game does look and sound good enough for a casual title.

The premise of The Amazing Brain Train is that you use the power of thought to power a train around a magical land of animals and perform transportation-related tasks. Or something like that. Anyway, you’ll essentially be completing a number of mini-games, and the better you do, the higher the score. The Amazing Brain Train features the story-driven quest mode, where you complete the previously-mentioned tasks, a test mode which randomly assigns you a set of five games, and a practice mode where you can (surprise!) practice. The games of The Amazing Brain Train fall under five categories: spatial, numbers, memory, planning, and search. Unfortunately, there are only three games in each category (for a total of 15) and only two of those are initially unlocked. This is a very low amount of content that, as you can imagine, gets very boring far too quickly. I’m surprised, considering past games by the developer faired far better (230 puzzles) in the content category. Even the sub-standard PIQE had 27 unique puzzles.

Once you get past the initial shock of such a small amount of material, you’ll find that the puzzles The Amazing Brain Train does have are high-quality. Most of the mini-games are unique and involve varied actions, like moving objects or selecting numbers. The game certainly does require thinking and your brain will be challenged. I found every one of the 15 games to be fun, at least until the third iteration of each puzzle set. Unlike Big Brain Academy, which focuses on both speed and difficulty, The Amazing Brain Train brings the pain early and often, even in the same set of levels. While the first couple of maps in each round are easy enough, after that the game gets very tough and you’ll be failing most of the later boards rather than just taking a long time with them. Some people will enjoy this level of challenge, but the more casual players that the game is designed for will get frustrated after they only score two or three correct responses in each set. Since The Amazing Brain Train lacks difficulty settings to only allow for easy or hard puzzles, you are stuck with what the developers feel is a good balance instead of what your level of expertise may be. The lack of features present in The Amazing Brain Train certainly hinders the overall experience and makes the game less enjoyable as a whole.

While what The Amazing Brain Train has is good, it doesn’t have enough of it. The game’s 15 puzzles are all well-designed and quite challenging, but you’ll be saying “oh, this one again” far too often. The difficulty ramps up a bit too quickly in my opinion, going from trivially easy to extremely challenging in just a couple of maps. The lack of difficulty settings makes the transition hard to swallow for novice and younger players. I suspect that people will fall into one of two categories when they play The Amazing Brain Train: bored because of the repetition, or frustrated because of the high difficulty. Those looking for a challenging logic game will find The Amazing Brain Train fun for about 30 minutes, but then either repetition or frustration will set in and the train will come to a crashing halt.