This year has been a very strong one for Nintendo, and the company has one final first-party offering in 2021 in Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain. The first entry in the series since 2007, Brain vs. Brain offers players the opportunity to flex their mental muscles on their own, or while competing with other players. It might not be as high-profile as some of this year's biggest Switch games, but Brain vs. Brain might just be the perfect multiplayer option for families during the holiday season.
Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain offers 16 activities to compete in across five categories: Identify, Categorize, Analyze, Compute, and Visualize. Players can select any of these activities from the start, or they can measure their Big Brain Brawn by completing timed activities in a test spanning the five categories. In addition to the practice and test options, players can compete in these activities with friends locally, or against Ghost Data. Ghost Data can be challenged between multiple accounts on the same system, or against other players online. The latter option also allows players to compete in ranks that will be reset each month.
When starting up a solo game, players are prompted to enter their name and age, and create an in-game avatar. Players are rewarded points for practicing activities, clearing point thresholds, or for competing against Ghost Data. For every 10 points the player accumulates, a new avatar item is unlocked. It's a pretty small incentive, but those avatar options are a nice way to make your character stick out online, or during multiplayer.
Speaking of multiplayer, it's the area where Brain vs. Brain truly excels. Players can compete in the game's 16 activities with up to four other players. As part of Nintendo's promotion for the game, the company has played up the idea of families competing against one another. After playing the game with my own family, it's easy to see why: the game's activities are a blast to play with a group, and as a parent, it's great to have something that's also educational. To keep things competitive for players of different age groups, each player has their own dedicated section of the screen. Before each activity, players can set their skill level, which determines how difficult their activity will be. As a result, players in categories like "Sprout" class will have an easier activity to compete in, while players that are in "Advanced" class will have an activity that's much more difficult. The option offers a great way for kids and adults to compete on a more even playing field.
For the most part, the game's activities are really well thought out, and will challenge players to think. Some of my personal favorites were Balloon Burst, where players must pop balloons in numerical order, and Fast Focus, where players must guess the image as it comes into focus. Nearly all of the activities are easy to control... with one notable exception. Tick-Tock Turn tasks players with moving the hands on a clock to jump ahead a set amount of time (such as 60 minutes, or even 270). However, the control stick is not precise enough for this type of task. I often found myself overshooting by five or ten minutes and having to spend precious seconds trying to adjust. I was not the only one struggling with this part of the activity; when playing against Ghost Data for other players online, I could see them similarly overshooting their target and desperately trying to make it work. Tick-Tock Turn's controls are much more accurate in Brain vs. Brain's two-player touch-screen mode, but that won't help elsewhere. It's really unfortunate, because the activity is challenging enough without the controls leading to unnecessary losses.
Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain is the type of game that Nintendo does better than any other developer in the industry. This is a game that has clearly been designed with families in mind, and it's the perfect way to play together, while also taking in something educational. The game's $30 price point also makes it ideal for parents looking for one last Switch game to buy this holiday season. Honestly, it's a shame that the game came out after my Nintendo Holiday Gift Guide went live, because it absolutely would have made the list this year. Solo players will likely get less enjoyment out of the title (and might want to deduct half a point from my score), but this is one multiplayer experience families and friends are sure to enjoy together this holiday season.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain is set to release December 3rd on Nintendo Switch. The game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on a Nintendo Switch OLED.