Nintendo’s New Big Brain Academy Turns Brain Teasers Into A Party Game

2021 will be the year of party games on the Switch. This year, Nintendo released new items in the WarioWare and Mario party franchises, and now it completes the party trilogy with Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain. It is the sequel to a series that started with brain age on the Nintendo DS, which, in addition to Wii Sports and Wii Fit, helped bolster the company’s “blue ocean” strategy to reach a non-traditional gaming audience. Every “Brain” game is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of digital brain teasers. The twist in the latest one is that the focus is almost exclusively on multiplayer games.

At its most basic, Great Brain Academy is a minigame collection in which each of the games is divided into five different categories: identify, memorize, analyze, calculate and visualize. The idea is that the games all test different parts of your brain. In one minigame you have to pop numbered balloons in the correct order, while in another minigame you have to choose the right shapes to complete an image. There’s a fairly simple single-player mode where you can practice each of the mini-games, complete a “test” that spans each of the five categories, or battle the ghosts of friends or players online. If you do it right, you will earn high scores and new looks for your avatar.

It’s nothing like, shall we say, a classic brain age with a structure that encourages you to come back and keep improving. (Although the game judges the weight of your brain after tests.) Instead, the single player feels more like a warm-up for the party mode, where up to four players can compete. This mode works well for a few reasons. For starters, the games are quite simple, but with a nice progression, so they work well for a timed competition where you try to solve problems as quickly as possible. It can get surprisingly intense when all the players in a room try to be the first to identify a slowly unraveling photo of a zebra.

The Thing That Sets Brain vs Brain aside from the Switch’s other party games, apart from the less wacky minigames, it’s just how hard the difficulty is. It really is something you can play with the whole family. When you start a multiplayer match, each player can choose their own level of difficulty, making it possible to balance the experience for people of different ages. I played one afternoon with a six- and eight-year-old, and each of us played on a very different level of difficulty. When we play Mario KartFor example, I’m usually forced to turn the speed all the way back, which is fun for the kids, but boring for me. But in Brain vs Brain, you can tailor the experience to each player so they can both compete against each other and challenging themselves. It’s a nice change.

I should also note that this is the rare Switch game that I actually prefer to play with a touchscreen. It’s just a lot faster in most games to tap the correct answer than to move a cursor. Unfortunately, this isn’t really possible if you have a lot of people playing, but there is a single-Switch touchscreen mode that works really well for two players.

Brain vs Brain is by no means revolutionary, but it does open up possibilities for who can play together, which is a significant change from its contemporaries. It’s also not the kind of game I see myself playing alone so often. Instead, it’s more of a board game that I’ll stick on the shelf and take out when everyone’s together.

Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain launches December 3rd on the Nintendo Switch.