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Buzz! Brain Bender

Imagine this. Bandera, Texas, it’s 1880, the sun is blazing fervently, soon to fall behind the dusty horizon. ‘The Old Brain Saloon’ stands prominently amongst an otherwise generic cowboy town, tumbleweeds and everything. A shadowed figure sits by the corner of the bar, sipping on a light beer and irritating the barman with his exuberant quips. His name is Buzz. Just then the clock strikes midnight, the saloon doors fly open, and all heads turn. Walking to the bar with a gun in his hand and a pleasant smile on his face, a man adjusts his glasses and looks towards Buzz. His name is Dr. Kawashima. “Your time is up, Doc”, utters Buzz with a sheepish grin, “I own this place now, man you’ve got one hell of a nerve coming here”. Dr. Kawashima replies without hesitation, “this town ain’t big enough for the two of us Buzz, outside, now”. And with that they engage in a good old fashioned shootout. Neither come out victorious, however, as they both keel over before they can pull the trigger. Exhaustion’s a killer; it seems these brain games just can’t seem to keep up past an initially interesting and involving concept. Buzz! Brain Bender is well presented, varied and engaging, but the core gameplay isn’t quite enough to hold players for too long, or cement the game as a truly notable classic, much like Nintendo’s Brain Training (or Brain Age, for those in the US).

Like the previous titles in the Buzz! series, the game is presented by Buzz, a gameshow host voiced by Jason Donovan. He’s as loud and enthusiastic as he ever was, reciting line after line after line (after line after line… after line) with a suitably animated tone. As you’d expect, it’s not long before his constant remarks start to grate. They’re lovingly spoken, but you’ll likely turn the volume down and play in silence, unless annoying blonde gameshow hosts do it for you. Apart from some effective but no less generic interval gameshow music, sound is something you probably won’t miss if you choose to play without it.

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The game operates in a similar vein to the Brain Training games. You start by taking a test of four categories, which after completion works out (in KiloJoules) how ‘powerful’ your brain is, comparing your brain to an electrical device for ease of understanding. The four categories are Memory, Observation, Analysis and Calculation, with each expected to stimulate different areas of the brain. Depending on who you are you’ll most likely warm to one category and utterly despise another, but this variety is essential for the game’s purpose.

There are sixteen different timed games to engage yourself with – four for each category. These include a ‘quick count’ game, which is a simple but satisfying exercise where you do exactly as the name suggests, an exercise called ‘path finder’ where you have to quickly match the entrance of a maze to the correct exit, and ‘match up’, which is, simply put, a game of pairs. Your answers to the games are selected with the PSP’s face buttons, and while it’s a no nonsense approach to things, unfortunately there’s always that slight delay in picking your answer as you analyse the possible choices you can select.

The games are deceptively simple, and work especially well in getting your brain active. It’s a shame however that after prolonged play and repeated completion of certain games that your enthusiasm to continue putting in the hours with the game diminishes. The game has a few ideas that will keep you playing depending on how determined you are as a player, however, and Curve Studios should be credited for such ideas.

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You have the ‘training’ mode, where you can try and better your score in each category and game, with varying difficulties and bronze to gold stars awarded. This mode is where most of your time will be spent; perfecting your scores and the like if you don’t lose interest. Much like Brain Training, the game tracks your progress with handy graphs. Acting much like the PlayStation 3’s Trophies, there are ‘boffin awards’, which do well in giving you something to aim for. Finally you have the ‘challenge’ mode, where you’re able to complete marathons and suchlike of the various games. One challenge for example asks you to complete all memory games, while another expects you to complete games from all categories in one sixty second session. They’re relevant, however ultimately just a slight variation on what is asked of you in the game’s training, or main test. This test can be completed any time, which kind of defeats the object of it all. It consists of completing four games in a row of the relevant categories, and the games that are chosen differ every time you play.

Away from the serious brain shenanigans is the ‘brain battle’ mode, which is for up to six players. Thankfully only the one PSP is needed, as you pass it around after completion of each game. You’re then marked head to head, which is consistent fun, regardless of how many friends you’ve got playing. It’s always nice to know your brain is one step ahead of a friend or sibling in calculation, or memory, and it’s this kind of fun that perhaps the game needed a little more of.

Presentation is the title’s strongpoint, with a well animated host and some slick gameshow-inspired movies for all the games and modes on offer. The sixteen games are all sophistically styled, and for a game of this type, you can’t ask for much more. The visuals are spot on.

It may play a little too similarly to Nintendo’s Brain Training, but Buzz! Brain Bender does enough to stand on its own. With slick presentation and some fun but generally short lived games, it’s certainly worth a purchase if you feel your brain needs a workout.

6 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @_Frey.

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