Dr. Ryuta Kawashima has infiltrated my dreams. The unorthodox neuroscientist mascot-maestro at the center of the Brain Age series, despite all my efforts to push him out, has been forcing me to enhance my cognitive functioning even during non-waking hours. He’s not the good-natured, pale-faced Dr. Kawashima of previous Brain Age games either. No, he’s a demoniacal, horned, maroon-hued version of his former self, every exposed polygon in his visage a firm reminder that I’ll never be completely finished feeling the stealthy, disdain-brewing wrath of Brain Age: Concentration Training.
The true sequel to 2007’s Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes a Day! (the DSi exclusive Brain Age Express doesn’t quite count), and the first Brain Age title to arrive on the 3DS, Concentration Training is less about determining the overall capacity of your mind across several varying educational categories and more about testing and increasing the limitations of your (potentially dwindling) heedfulness. Dr. Kawashima has the unyielding belief that today’s world is so full of meaningless preoccupations that the modern human’s level of observation and information retention has reached an unacceptable state. In order to put his new mission objective into motion, for whatever bizarre reason he has in his gigantic, diabolical floating dome piece, Dr. Kawashima makes a deal with the devil and promptly transforms into a much stricter instructor. This explains his satanic appearance and demeanor throughout Concentration Training, a formidable puzzler with interesting, respectable intentions that doesn’t quite live up to the altogether addicting and universally enjoyable qualities of its praised predecessors.
A fresh set of activities dubbed Devilish Training is the principal focus this time around, and though the word “devilish” may hint at an extraordinary degree of difficulty, it’s really just sort of a gimmicky premise that tends to fall on deaf ears. Devilish Training is all about how well you can multitask within a specific time span, as in the Devilish Calculations mini-games where a cycling array of math equations appear on the screen, and you’re tasked with solving a particular problem while different ones routinely slide into view. Admittedly, this does give the hippocampus an extensive workout, and after completing a handful of stages the process can border upon downright stressful. Strangely enough, this is Concentration Training’s main issue. Instead of being an all-around pleasurable way to increase your cerebral dexterity, its most trying lessons periodically provoke intense aggravation rather than a sense that you’re actually learning something as you toil through its often maddening endgame operations. There’s more to Devilish Training than just mathematics, though, like less demanding sections dedicated to letters and symbols that can ease the pain of those tired of dealing with perpetually rotating numbers.
Fans of past Brain Age installments might not be so keen on Devlish Training’s demonic antics, and Concentration Training kindly supplements this with more familiar skill examinations such as casual card games, block-based challenges, and diversions that pay homage to Nintendo classics like Dr. Mario and the oft-overshadowed Tetris variation Wario’s Woods. However, even with these welcome inclusions, Concentration Training harshly imposes duration restrictions on the player’s day-to-day sessions (Dr. Kawashima, now fully voice-acted, intermittently reprimands you for playing too long), adding moments of needless frustration to a game that seems to relish in feeding off them. How ironic, that in working toward lessening the amount of outside disturbances in players’ everyday lives, Dr. Kawashima takes pride in peddling a chronic distraction in the form of Concentration Training.