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Nintendo’s new Big Brain Academy turns brainteasers into a party game

Actual fun for the whole family

2021 is shaping up to be the year of party games on the Switch. This year, Nintendo has released new entries in the WarioWare and Mario Party franchises, and now it’s completing the party trilogy with Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain. It’s the continuation of a series that started with Brain Age on the Nintendo DS, which, alongside the likes of Wii Sports and Wii Fit, helped solidify the company’s “blue ocean” strategy of reaching a nontraditional gaming audience. Each “Brain” game is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of digital brainteasers. The twist in the latest is that its focus is almost exclusively on multiplayer play.

At its most basic, Big Brain Academy is a mini-game collection where each of the games is divided into five different categories: identify, memorize, analyze, compute, and visualize. The idea is that the games all test different parts of your brain. One mini-game involves popping numbered balloons in the correct order, while another has you choosing the right shapes to complete an image. There’s a pretty basic single-player mode where you can practice each of the mini-games, complete a “test” that involves each of the five categories, or compete against the ghosts of either friends or players online. Doing well earns you high scores and new looks for your avatar.

It’s nothing like, say, a classic Brain Age with a structure that encourages you to come back and keep improving. (Though the game does rate the weight of your brain after tests.) Instead, the single-player feels more like a warmup for the party mode, where up to four players can compete. This mode works well for a few reasons. To start, the games are pretty simple but with a nice progression, so they work well for a timed competition where you’re trying to solve problems as quickly as possible. It can get surprisingly intense when all the players in a room are trying to be the first to identify a slowly unraveling photo of a zebra.

The thing that sets Brain vs. Brain apart from the Switch’s other party games, aside from its less zany mini-games, is just how adjustable the difficulty is. It’s really something you can play with the whole family. When you start up a multiplayer match, each player gets to choose their own difficulty level, making it possible to balance the experience for people of different ages. I spent an afternoon playing with a six- and eight-year-old, and each of us was playing on a completely different difficulty level. When we play Mario Kart, for instance, I’m usually forced to turn the speed down all the way, which is fun for the kids but boring for me. But in Brain vs. Brain, you can fine-tune the experience to each player so that they can both compete against each other and challenge themselves. It’s a nice change of pace.

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

Brain vs. Brain isn’t revolutionary by any stretch, but it does open up the possibilities for who can play together, which is an important change from its contemporaries. It’s also not the kind of game I see myself playing solo all that often. Instead, it’s more like a board game that I’ll stick on the shelf and pull out when everyone gets together.

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