Review: Mensa Academy - Nintendo 3DS version tested
So there are tie-ins and there are tie-ins… Attaching licences and brands to video games is nothing new. I grew up playing movie tie-ins ranging from eighties movies such as Short Circuit, Platoon and Robocop. These days you can play videogames with licences ranging from FIFA, through bands ranging from The Beatles to Metallica, even Pop Idol…
This is a slightly different idea for a licensed game. Mensa, of course, is a world renowned brand in its own right – the British society that aims to foster intelligence. Anyone can join with an IQ of 132 or above (thereby in the top 2% of the population).
This brand fits in with the new niche in videogames – brain training games. Undoubtedly, the first big success in this field was Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training on the Nintendo DS. This combined a few compelling things. Firstly, it was original – no mainstream title had attempted to make a game of intelligence building before. Secondly, it was productive – users could use their games console for something more than leisure. Thirdly it was portable – the little DS was ideally suited for use during boring commutes, or when perched on any sofa in any room.
It launched to runaway success in Japan, followed by an equally significant impact in the US and Europe. I bought it on launch and played it to death. When its sequel launched, I played that for many hours as well. There were rivals – one of the good things about the DS is that relatively small software houses could develop niche titles fairly easily. But none of them could quite match the impact of Dr Kawashima’s original.
So, finally the 3DS is getting a brain training title of its own. It is also available on the Wii and PC – but in this reviewer’s humble opinion, handheld is a real must for any game in this genre.
The game offers three choices on start-up – “Play”, “Coach” and “Test”. There isn’t much difference between the first two modes – Play enables individual puzzles to be tackled at will. These are split up into categories such as Literacy, Numeracy, Logic, Visual and Memory. The Play mode provides a good starting point as it immediately exposed some weaknesses in my own mental make up. As I thought, I found the literacy and numeracy puzzles easier – but some of the logic puzzles really tripped me up at first.
This was a positive thing – it showed where the gains could be made and gave me an area to focus my efforts on. So after a stint of trying a few of the puzzle types out in Play, it was time to hit the Coaching mode and focus on improving my Logic skills. So far so good.
After a session practicing these, I attempted my first assessment in Test mode. This is where the game’s true character was revealed. It’s tough – but worthwhile. Each test lasts 15 minutes and it is best to have some scrap paper to scribble on for working. The logic puzzles in Test mode were torturous! But it made me face the weaker aspects of my mental skills and work through them – it was extremely rewarding.
I’d rather not say what my first score was, but last night I achieved a more respectable IQ score of 124. And that is also the other branding ace that this game has up its sleeve – it gives you an IQ score. Not a brain age in years, but a fairly decent approximation of what your IQ could be.
There are other things to note – visually it is leagues ahead of Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training in terms of its graphics. The tests are filled with creative and vibrant looking graphics – they are far more attractive than the tests in DKBT.
But that really is beside the point. There is a real niche for this game – for the post-DKBT player who seeks a more serious challenge and is prepared to face some hard, exam-style testing. I like that, it brings out the more bloody-minded gaming addiction in me. It isn’t a relaxing game at all – in fact I found myself not playing it a couple of times when I felt tired, or didn’t have a full 15 minutes to devote to it as I wanted to improve and rack up some better IQ scores.
So for that – I think it’s a worthwhile game. Are you mentally tough enough to take this challenge on? If so, pick up a copy. For the few gamers who dare, it is a rewarding and beneficial experience.
Mensa Academy is out now for Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Wii and PC.