Junior Brain Trainer Maths Edition Review (DS)

Back to school.

Junior Brain Trainer Maths Edition Review DS
26th January, 2011 By Ian Morris
Game Info // Junior Brain Trainer Maths Edition
Junior Brain Trainer Maths Edition Boxart
Publisher: Avanquest
Developer: Uacari
Players: 1
Subtitles: Full
Available On: DS
Genre: Educational

The latest in a line of Junior Brain Trainer games from Avanquest, we popped Junior Brain Trainer: Maths Edition into our DS with high hopes. After all, there's undoubtedly a market for a decent Brain Training game that's aimed at children - something that'll help kids to learn, preferably without it actually feeling like they're learning - a game they'll actually want to play.

Sadly, Junior Brain Trainer: Maths Edition isn't that game. While many of the puzzles have an educational value, JBT: Maths Edition isn't the sort of game your child will actively want to play of their own accord. There's little to keep them coming back, and little in the way of rewards for doing well, meaning this is a game that's best set as a rule - "Play fifteen minutes of this, then you can play what you want". And as that, it'll probably work pretty well.

A collection of 15 maths-themed minigames, of varying mathematical value, Junior Brain Trainer: Maths Edition is something of a mixed bag. While the majority of the minigames work absolutely fine, and are obviously of benefit to a child's maths skills, when you get to around halfway through the game, you'll find yourself more-often-than-not scratching your head, either in an effort to understand exactly what you're meant to do, or how they're meant to help improve your maths.

Junior Brain Trainer Maths Edition Screenshot

Shuffle shuffle

Take, for example, the game where you have to build a chain of dominos, where like-numbered ends connect to each other. It all seems fairly straightforward - until you actually try to do it. To begin with, you're often faced with a variety of dominos that could continue the chain, and working out which one you're meant to use is often nothing more than guess work. To make matters worse, the chain bends when you reach the end of a row, and goes back the other way, with a very unobvious line attempting to point it out. Similarly un-maths-related is the game pictured to the right, where you have to shuffle a number of transistors around a grid in order to clear the right hand column. Yeah, it's an OK idea for a minigame, but it's not going to help a child add up.

Thankfully, though, as we mentioned earlier, the majority of the minigames are very much maths related, and do have real potential for helping your child learn their way around numbers. Whether it's placing the missing sign in an equation; choosing three numbers that add together to make a target value; or working out which animal weighs the most, when presented with three weights; there's actually a lot of good - and, at times, challenging - maths here for most young children to be getting on with, with questions aimed at parts of the syllabus up to Year 6 level maths. The difficulty of the questions you'll be facing mean this is definitely aimed at Key Stage 2 (the game officially targets 7-11) - the only problem, again, is how it's been put together.

The main problem with Junior Brain Trainer Maths Edition is that the minigames are often too hard to control. When you've got to draw a number on the bottom screen, as you often do in grown-up Brain Training, the game is seemingly purposefully awkward, and actually refuses to recognise a '4' drawn in anything other than one specific way. On a game where you have to make numbers using an abacus, the game offers no leeway for false moves - if you need to make 23, and slide 2 counters on the one column, and 2 counters on the second column up, because you've touched slightly the wrong place accidentally, the game will instantly tell you you've got it wrong. Even if you stop mid-slide, and attempt to go back and get the other counters, the game won't allow it - so long as one counter is on the top screen, the game counts it as your answer. In a similar way, many of the later minigames also have confusing descriptions, written in broken (or poorly translated English), which make the games hard to pick up and play. In a game aimed at children, these flaws are a pretty big problem.

Junior Brain Trainer Maths Edition Screenshot

The weight puzzle is one of the hardest.

Although the difficulty does make a difference this time, we're still of the opinion it doesn't change the level of challenge enough. When you first set up a profile, you'll be asked to choose a difficulty level, and, once you've done that, it sticks with you for the entire game. If you decide the puzzles are too easy, and fancy more of a challenge, you can't change it without creating a new profile - on which you'll have to unlock all of the minigames all over again.

Set on its easiest level, the game does get easier (you'll be asked questions involving fewer digits, smaller numbers, and have to draw less complex shapes, etc - you'll also get a much more lenient time limit to work with), whereas on the hardest level, the questions have the ability to ramp themselves up and down - the quicker you answer them, the harder they'll get. While this means the harder difficulty levels have the ability to scale according to you, it is a shame that the easiest difficulty doesn't share the same malleability - on the easiest difficulty, if you can't do it, you're stuck.

Junior Brain Trainer Maths Edition Screenshot

Take note, people - this is the way you have to do your 4s.

While the box may insist that the game has a "fun, adventure packed storyline", in fact, the "storyline" consists almost purely of an intro, which sees a number of mice taken captive in an airship, who you then lead in a fight to overthrow their kidnappers, and escape... by solving maths puzzles. Beyond the intro (and an ending when you finish the game), there's actually nothing else to the story - all that happens is you'll have a mouse yelling communist-sounding slogans about leading a revolution while you're choosing which minigame you want to play.

But, perhaps more importantly, the lack of a story means, or any real rewards system means there's little incentive to keep kids coming back. If you get over a certain score, you'll effectively have "completed" that minigame, and you'll find yourself awarded with a part for a plane, which the mice want to build to help them escape from the airship. The problem is, the game doesn't tell you how many points you need to earn, so you never know how close you are to the goal, and you never get that "one more go" feeling. There's also no way of knowing how many points you're going to get, as the game isn't exactly transparent in its scoring - you don't have a tally that goes up and down as you play - instead, you get presented with a seemingly random number at the end. Equally disappointing is just how hard it is to reach the required level on certain minigames - in fact, we're pretty much convinced that it's impossible to get the points required on the transistor moving minigame on the hardest difficulty. Either that, or it'd rather we did something different.

While there's no doubting Junior Brain Trainer Maths Edition holds a lot of merit, especially for older children, it's not the game it should have, or could have been. It's not a game that children are going to want to play by themselves, and, as such, it's not as effective an educational tool as it could be. If your child uses it, it will be effective at making them faster, sharper, and better at the fairly basic skills that mathematics is built upon, but there's little reason to keep them coming back. While it remains an above average game, with a few minor changes to the usability (and some better translated instructions), this could have been a lot better.

Format Reviewed: Nintendo DS

StarStarStarEmpty starEmpty star
A few digits short of an equation.
  • +
    Plenty of puzzles that'll test your maths skills.
  • +
    You feel yourself (and your children will feel theirselves) getting better at maths, the more you play.
  • +
    Adjustable difficulty makes a difference...
  • -
    ...just not enough of one.
  • -
    Awkward controls and explanations.
  • -
    Seemingly impossible point limits needed to complete the game.
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