(Originally written for Solsie.com on May 30, 2007. *click*)
Quite some people who read this, will have heard of Mastersoft Sudoku sometime in the past. It’s a very feature-rich implementation of the popular Sudoku game, and therefore loved by the PPC gamers. On June 1st, Mastersoft Mobile Solutions released a new game for the Pocket PC, called Brain School. I’ve been participating in the beta testing, and now I have the pleasure to write a review about it!
Mastersoft plans to release Brain School for other platforms too, so if you are (for example) a SmartPhone user, you still might want to read on after the break and find out why I’m really enthusiastic about this game!
Brain training is a pretty popular way to spend your time, and also train your brain on the way. Various names are used, like Brain Age, Brain Training, or, like Mastersoft’s new title: Brain School. The concept is the same however. One part is all about small exercises that are fun to do, but also activate different parts of your brain. Brain School does a great job at this, by providing no less then 20 mini-games for you to play! The other part is about keeping track of your progress, and also that is generously covered: there are quite some different ways to track your improvements. Last but not least, you can play this game with 9 other “Class mates”, so you can let your friends join and find out which one of you has the best brain!
This is all packed into one program, so let’s get a better look at it!
Installation of the trial
The installation process is fairly easy. Downloading Brain School will result in having a .zip file on your desktop PC that contains a .exe and a .cab installer, so you can install from the PC or directly from the device. Brain School does require the .NET Compact Framework, but most devices already have this installed in their ROM. However, if you don’t have it on your device, you can download the required version from here. It leads to .NET CF 1 SP 3, so if you already have that, or a higher version, upgrading is not needed. Personally, I didn’t have to install anything but Brain School. I installed it to the Storage Card of my HTC Wizard which runs Windows Mobile 5.
The trial is function-limited. The exact trial information changed after writing this review, so please check the comments under this post for more information from Melvyn. The trial will give you a good idea about what kind of games are included though. Also, you can check out the detailed Help file that covers all games in detail. It can be found here. Realise that the games will get more challenging as you progress through the different levels of each game!
Part 1 – The games
First of all, we’ll discuss the games section. Normally this will be what you’re most interested in, and this will make up for the biggest part of the decision to purchase Brain School or not. Brain School covers 20 games, which use various parts of your brain. Also included are Kakuro and Sudoku in Y4, which are small versions of the very popular Mastersoft Kakuro and SuDoku games.
When you open Brain School, you are presented with your full teaching schedule.
This covers 4 years (which will be mentioned as Y1 – Y4). Every year consists of 5 rows, that all represent a game. Every row consists of 5 stars, which all represent a level. For each of the levels, that increase in difficulty, you can get Grades. Grades can vary from E (Very Poor) to A+ (Outstanding). The star indicates your score, so from the first view you can already see how you are doing. You start with just one green empty star for every game. However, as soon as you play finish a game level, this star will be replaced with another one, indicating your grade. You can see this better in the Year view. The example screenshot shows my Year 3 progress, and you can see that not only the grade stars are displayed here, but also the title of each game. As you can see, I got an A+ for the first two levels of School Trip, and a B+ for the third level.
You will need to get an A+ for a level before you can move on to the next level, until you have completed all 5 levels. Then you are told that you are a master, and you should spread your knowledge!
The games all start with two introduction screens, one for the level and one for the game.
First you are told some details about the level you are about to play. Let’s take a look at the intro screen for level 2 of the game “Just Times Tables”. The Level Intro screen as I call it, shows you on which level you are. Also the Pass Requirements are displayed. In level 2, you have to answer 20 of all 20 exercises correct in order to advance to the next level. You will have 120 seconds to complete this task. The Steps icon is only used for some games, in which you need to complete a task in a certain amount of steps in order to advance. Underneath the Pass Requirements are the Personal Best statistics, which show you what your personal best achievement is for that level. I added a screen of the actual Just Times Tables to show you what the exercises are in this level. You will need to calculate the answer to 20 mathematical exercises, from which the first 4 are displayed. So while entering “260” you can already calculate the answer to 26 x 2. The higher the level is, the harder the exercises get.
After the Level details, you get to see a game description. For the Plastic Puzzle game, the game description looks like the screenshot you see below. It gives the name of the game, and explains what you will need to do. Plastic Puzzle is actually a Tangram minigame, which uses the same four pieces for all puzzles, in all levels. Don’t think that you can easily figure all of them out though, many people got stuck on the second puzzle in the FIRST LEVEL for a long time. After that, you know that you need to think without restrictions, and this helps for the next levels. Plastic Puzzle is my favourite mini-game of the entire Brain School!
All games also show you the relevant game statistics, such as the remaining time and/or the current exercise. In the screen below you see that you’ve got 2 minutes and 59 seconds left, and that you’re current exercise is the first of a total of 40. In Heavier, Heaviest, you will need to find out which shape is the most heavy. In this screen you can see that a blue ball and a green triangle are the same wheight (upper scale, if you remove a blue ball from both sides, one green triangle and one blue ball remain, and they are in balance). The coloured ball, however, is heavier than the blue ball. Taking the upper scale into account, the conclusion is that the coloured ball is also heavier than the green triangle, so the coloured ball is the heaviest object of this screen. Notice that the left scale was there just to make you confused, you don’t need it! Don’t worry, this is not an exercise you’ll find in the first level.
For the other 17 games, I’d like to point you to the Help maual, available from the Mastersoft Mobile Solutions website (here).
Part 2 – Exams
After getting certain amounts of A+ stars, you unlock the different exams. On which games these grades are recieved doesn’t matter, as you can see I progressed pretty good in Y1 and didn’t do a lot in Y2. However, I did unlock the Y2 exam which unlocked Y3 after passing it.
Above you’ll see the intro screen to the Y3 exam. You see that you’ll need to answer 20 questions correctly in order to pass the exam. The amount of time for this is limited, and (just like the ‘pass mark’) varies for the exams in different years.
The exams are a combination of all games in that year, that can be used in an exam. For example, the Plastic Puzzle game you saw above, is not used for the exam in that year, since it’s not a time-limited exercise. You can expect to see exercises from Heavier, Heaviest and Just Times Tables in the exams though! Level 4 is an exception to the rule that only games from that year are being used: the 4th Finals exam combines games from all years, mixed in an exam that is really hard to pass. While I could complete the first three exams, I haven’t been able to pass the last one yet! Often I already know halfway that I’ll never be able to get the required amount of correct answers in the given time.
From beta testing, I know that the “pass requirements” for the games are based on the input from the beta testers. So if someone was too easy or too difficult, the pass marks where adjusted, However, we are also told that we shouldn’t expect to get A+ ratings for all levels at every game. So I’m not yet sure if the finals exam is just “a real challeng” or “mission impossible”!
Part 3 – Keeping track of your results
These 20 games and 4 exams will defenitely keep you occupied for a while. Also, because of the 5 different levels for each game, you will most likely find a level that’s challenging for you, which is great because challenging games are the ones that you will want to re-play more often.
However, the games are not all that you get for your dollars. Brain School wouldn’t be a scool, if it would give you School Reports. Results can be viewed in various ways. Of course your game progress can be tracked from the main screen, which shows you the grades for every level of every game. Also, you can track your exam results in graphs, seperated for individual exams or combined for all your exams. Graphs are an easy way to see if you got better or worse, since you’ll see a line going up or down, representing how the the amount of correctly answered questions changed over the days. You can view the graph per week, month, and Term (4 months).
Brain School also calculates a score, which is based on your overall progress. You can view your score by level or by grade.
Score by Level shows you what grades you achieved for all levels. So for the first level in all 20 games, I managed to get an A+. For the secons level, I was only able to achieve the same result for 12 games though. On one level 2 game, I got a B grade.
Score by Grade shows you how many times you achieved a certain grade. Here we can see that I achieved an A+ for 51 game levels.
You can also view the results of your class. You can view a list of Top Scores, where the Scores (as seen above) are ordered for all students, from high to low. Another option is to have an alphabetically ordered list that contains the Exam results for all students.
Part 4 – The “other stuff”
The last things I want to cover, are the Career Advisor, the settings, and the sounds & graphics.
You can get a career advice, but at this moment it’s mostly just for fun. In future updates, this will most likely get adressed so that it corresponds better to how well you did in various games.
There are not a lot of settings. However, I could also say that there are not a lot of settings needed. You can turn the sound on and off, and you can change the names for the 10 players, but that’s it. However, I didn’t find myself missing any other settings. So even though I’m usually a person that says “the more tweaking, the better”, I just don’t really miss a setting here.
Graphics and Music are functional. As always, disabling the music is the first thing I do since I enjoy playing games in the train or at home while other people are watching TV, doing homework, etc. However, there are also sounds that provide help in games like Music Lessons. Therefore it’s very nice to have seperate settings for these sound effects, and the general game music. Graphics are used where necessary, and as you can see they are obviously designed to be helpful and not to distract you from gameplay.
Finally, let me show you the soft-keys. The left soft-key, Hometime, closes the application. The right soft-key opens a menu that gives you quick access to all years in detailed view and the main view. You can also access the exams and your scores from here. Options are available in sub-menu’s in this screen, and finally the Help menu gives access to the About screen, Credits, other Mastersoft ritles, a quick “How to play” popup screen, a registration screen, and the version history for the latest version.
Conclusion and product information
You will want to know the answer to two questions: “Is Brain School worth purchasing”, and “If I want to get a BrainTraining game, why should I pick Brain School over others”. The answer to the first question is “Yes, defenitely.” This is one of those games that you can play when you only have a couple of minutes. This is also one of those games that you start playing late at night before you go to sleep, but in the end you find yourself playing “just one more game!” for a long time. Also, because of all the different games with different difficulty levels, you’ll probably find exercises that are challenging for you, which really tickles your mind.
Why should you exactly pick THIS braintraining program? I will have to tell you that I didn’t compare Brain School to SPB Brain Evolution or Advanced Brain Trainer. However, simply looking at the amount of games that these titles include, we see that SPB Brain Evolution contains 10 games, and Advanced Brain Trainer includes 9 minigames. So for the same price (all these games cost 19,95) you get the DOUBLE amount of games to play in Brain School! And let’s face it, the amount of games, combined with how challenging they are, is what keeps the game fun for a long time.
It’s hard to look for neagtive points in this game. I’ve been a beta tester for this game so I had the pleasure to see every bug I reported, fixed within 24 hours. So then it comes down to ‘cosmetic preferences’. Personally I’d like to see the SuDoku grid enhanced a little so that it’s easier to keep the 9×9 block apart. The speed for entering candidates in Kakuro and Sudoku could be improved just a little. But apart from these kind of things, there was not a single thing that I encountered, that is not already fixed!
You can check out details for Brain School by Mastersoft Mobile Solutions on the product page where you can also find the Help manual that is a lot of fun to read. I also recommend it to people that are thinking about purchasing Brain School because it really shows you what to expect from the software.
Brain School was released for Pocket PC, and supports the WM 2002, WM 2003, WM 2003 SE, WM 5 and WM 6 operating systems, as well as Square, Portrait, and Landscape screens with QVGA or VGA screen resolutions.
At the moment it’s only available from the Mastersoft website, for $ 19,95.
Now, for the ultimate question… Can you graduate from Brain School?