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Flash Focus: Vision Training in Minutes a Day

The DS is currently bursting with enough brain training ‘non-games’ to cause a cerebral haemorrhage. Does Nintendo care? Well, if it prints money, it’s got to be good for you – or so they say. Flash Focus: Vision Training in Minutes a Day is a little different to your usual brain game; as you may have deduced from its title, this newcomer provides a set of non-gaming workouts with the emphasis on improving your vision. You won’t miraculously obtain perfect 20/20 eyesight, though. Instead, you’ll develop better hand-eye coordination, eye movement, peripheral vision, momentary vision, and dynamic visual acuity (according to the developers). In other words, it is really your eye muscles that will be conditioned rather than your eyeballs themselves. So release all misguided preconceptions; Flash Focus is still a reflex-orientated brain training game at heart.

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Are you familiar with the interface used in the original DS brain game, Brain Age? If so, you will be right at home with Flash Focus. Apart from the noticeable absence of the charming Dr. Kawashima – AKA Dr. Nobody (get it? Har har!) – everything, from the guided touch screen menus and the various graphical analyses, to the daily stamp awarding and the insightful tips reeks of its influence. That’s a compliment by the way. Brain Age is still arguably the finest brain game out there and by emulating its presentation, Flash Focus looks like a star.

The whole set-up of determining your ‘Brain Age’ even makes it across here. This time you want to find out your (no prizes for guessing…) ‘Eye Age’. You do this by playing through five activities randomly selected for you by the CPU. They include things like recalling a string of numbers that are quickly flashed on the screen; sequentially tapping on a series of little red boxes that suddenly appear out of thin air; or remembering how many letter ‘K’s are displayed as a constantly changing figure zips across the screen, shuffling randomly through the alphabet.

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Speed is the key. You really need to focus hard for the few seconds it takes to finish the activities thrown at you. Even then, sometimes it can be plain unfair. For example, the numbers which flash momentarily on-screen: recalling five or six numbers correctly is easily doable with practice, but more than that is something which you either can or cannot do (i.e. natural talent), irrespective of how much training you put in. Sorry folks. Not to sound elitist here, but I was able to manage it… a couple of times. However, there were occasions where I would get just one out of eight digits wrong and in following the rule of “all or nothing”, this meant that I failed to secure any points. Can you see how this would affect your overall scores? Say you only just balked on two attempts – your score will still be lower than if you royally screwed up one of them, but perfected the rest. This makes it tough to effectively gauge your progress. You’ll also have a hard time keeping in the optimum Eye Age range. While it is an improvement over Brain Age‘s dumbed-down “everyone is young and smart” grading, the wildly fluctuating results can be a deterrent to those who like to see steady progression as a reward for their efforts.

That said, if you’re just here for the fun of it, you may still enjoy what more Flash Focus has to offer. Unfortunately, there’s not much more. All up you have 17 so-called eye training activities. 10 of them are classified as ‘core’ exercises and they constitute the basic “what number was shown”/”what direction did the rings point to” kind of tasks. I’ve already mentioned a few of them, but I did leave out descriptions for the ones involving open and closed rings… for which there are many. Why? Because they are so utterly derivative!

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But we also have the 7 other ‘sports’ exercises which blend in different aspects of visual prowess (just like in real life). There’s table tennis where you have to move the bat with the stylus to return some skilful shots from a pro player. Not too bad; quite fun actually – for all of two minutes that is. Basketball fares better. Static players zoom across the screen – white uniforms for your team, red for the other. They then all become silhouettes and you have a limited amount of time to pass the ball to your members (by tapping). It’s not a basketball sim, by far, but it’s quite enjoyable… for all of five minutes. Should I explain baseball? It’s more boring than the Wii Sports version. But these games (non-games really) aren’t meant to be played in long bouts and in the short-term they are perfectly acceptable, albeit tired.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again (in a different way): Flash Focus rides the coattails of Brain Age‘s success. Play it everyday and you’ll receive stamps that will unlock more activities for you to try. Yes, this means it will take quite some time to have it all (unless you cheat by turning time forwards; you should already know how). You can track your progress via easy-to-read charts and match up plays with up to three other players on the same card. But the scoring can be wildly unpredictable, remember? Your ocular muscles aren’t as consistent as your grey matter, so don’t use this as a means to decide who’s going to cook dinner tonight. The graphics are fine, if a little too FLASH-game like for the sports exercises, and the sound is simply perfect for what it was meant to achieve (i.e. very, very basic, but not grating or anything like that). So presentation-wise, this gets top marks (for copying Brain Age, duh). As a minigame collection and/or a visual training program, it leaves much to be desired.

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Flash Focus is an above-average eye(s)-trainer. Just like with most other brain training games, some exercises will be played through once, never to be touched upon again – mostly the ring-based ones which are all rather plain and uninvolving. The sports-themed ones offer a little more excitement, but they are not of the sort which you can play regularly without driving down to tedium town. If the scoring was more consistent (or they at least granted you partial credit), the average activities wouldn’t be so much of a problem because really, they aren’t. You will improve your instincts, hand-eye coordination, and probably your eye movement, but there are other better ways to do so. There’s even a visual-detox instruction video in here, but again, there are more comprehensive ones out there. Flash Focus is great for those wanting a quick fix of light visual exercises on-the-go. It’s also one of the easiest ways to toughen up the lateral rectus, the medial rectus, the inferior rectus, the superior rectus, the inferior oblique, and the superior oblique muscles; all the muscles which aesthetically show for naught. While far from perfect, this is still one of the best training non-games the DS has to offer.

6 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in May 2007.

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