Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain, Nintendo’s latest Switch release, is one game with two distinct experiences. And it leans into it! To the extent that it gives you this choice as you boot. Are you playing alone or with others?
Which is sort of peculiar, at first! Since on their surface, the things you’re doing are very similar. You may remember some of the game’s challenges from previous Big Brain Academy games. (Though if you don’t recall 14 years ago, you’re forgiven!) Framed around five categories, Brain vs. Brain’s 20 activities test your… well, brain, of course. But to be more precise, it’s more about your visualization ability and reaction time.
The original BBA games used stylus and pointer controls, and Brain vs. Brain bridges the gap between touch and traditional buttons. If you’re playing in handheld mode, you can tap answers, which is often a lot quicker than navigating with the D-pad or analog stick. Thankfully, it does seem that the game takes this into account, as the most affected challenges ask you to pick one control scheme before starting. You’re locked into button controls when playing on the TV, obviously, but these work well enough.
When playing alone, Brain vs. Brain frames itself as a daily training tool. It doesn’t force the daily thing; you can keep going as much as you want! But it would prefer you play one challenge per category in a set, then take a break. It aims to help you build a routine, checking in for a bit each day to keep sharp. And it scales to ability, in its way. Clearing all the base activities with a gold medal unlocks a version of each that starts at an advanced level, meaning you don’t have to do the same tutorial-level waves forever. (But also younger players can stick with that and get better, too.)
For a lot of players, that routine will be easier to keep with the help of Brain vs. Brain’s online functionality. Rather than real-time multiplayer, the game uses recorded ghost data from other players to simulate that asynchronously. You can play against friends and family here, or just grind your ranking against harder and harder random opponents. Completionists can also work to unlock a bunch of titles and cosmetic options for your avatar.
But there’s that other option! And Nintendo’s likely banking on it. After all, its other game in the genre? Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training for Nintendo Switch? Despite its English localization in other territories nearly two years ago, the Brain Age sequel hasn’t even been rumored for a North American release. So Big Brain Academy’s family-friendly multiplayer may be its way in.
Party mode allows up to four players to take on these challenges at the same time in split-screen play. You can choose which one to play or spin a wheel, and the game keeps track of wins for an overall champion. It’s simple, but it works. A nice bonus: there’s also an option for two-player touch screen play. We’re always heartened to see developers remember the special capabilities of the Switch, and tabletop head-to-head is a fun way to play.
It feels like Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain was built with an intentional restraint. It doesn’t try to do too much, instead working to fit in your life as a little helper. In that way, it’s a refreshing throwback to the Nintendo DS era, when games were often more companion than main attraction.
Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain is available now on Nintendo Switch.