The unfortunate fact about Nintendo's Brain Age, the first title in the growing "smarty-pants" game genre for the Nintendo DS, is that it often made people feel genius in comparison. The brainteaser-packed title may have enticed millions in sales, but its failures in execution—including touch-screen errors and a screwy, color-based microphone challenge—proved that brains would've been better applied to the other side of the DS screen.
Thankfully, Brain Age 2 brightens things up. A sequel better described as an expansion, it has the look, feel, and basic premise of the original: You solve puzzles on the touch screen while racing against the clock; the faster you complete the puzzles, the "younger" your score. The instructions boast that the game's challenges, when used every day, improve thinking processes such as memory. While the benefit of this is open to debate, studies have proven that daily puzzle solving is helpful to some extent. Brain Age 2, much more than the last outing, is better at compelling the repeat play the doctor (here, a polygonal guy named Ryuta Kawashima) orders.
For starters, the variety reaches beyond last year's math-heavy lineup. In Brain Age 2 you play a piano, unscramble jumbled letters, and sort out calendar dates off the top of your head, among other things. Just want to play word challenges? You can have them. Do you like your math disguised in the form of a "give the correct change" game? Brain Age 2 can set you up—not to mention train you for a career in retail. The variation is a big improvement, and means you'll be less likely to let the game collect dust.
Unfortunately, while Brain Age 2 definitely improves over the original—including, thankfully, better voice recognition—it can still be stupid about handwriting. When challenges are all about speed, watching your ones continually interpreted as fives can lead to a lot of frustration. My problems were minimal, but a friend nearly chucked her DS—and others with sloppy handwriting may find themselves feeling the same.
That aside, Brain Age 2 is worthy of following the doctor's orders. Two weeks into my playtime, I may not be feeling noticeably smarter, but with better, more varied puzzles, the game is amusing enough to make long-term "training" at least seem a little less stupid this time around.