If you're looking to purchase a brain training game for the Nintendo DS, then this guide is for you! Whether you're new to the series or are simply wondering which game to pick up next, I'll help you decide which game is best for you.
(If you're looking for a short-and-sweet version, check out the bottom of the guide.)
If you're new to the brain training games, then this is probably the best game to start with. The training exercises are simple yet enjoyable, and you'll find yourself wanting to come back every day to try and beat your previous times. Brain Age (BA) operates on a reward system, where you unlock new features and training exercises as you train each day, so patience and commitment are necessary if you hope to reap the full benefits of what this game has to offer. I should also note that this game is not meant to be played in long, multi-hour sessions - 30 to 45 minutes is about the maximum amount of time you'll want to spend playing on any given day (unless you're into sudoku, in which case you'll have 120 puzzles to keep you occupied).
Because BA was Nintendo's first brain training game for the DS (at least in the U.S.), the voice and handwriting recognition isn't perfect. Numbers and letters usually have to be drawn in a certain way, and getting the game to recognize you saying the word "blue" can be tricky for some, but none of these issues severely hamper the gameplay. After a couple days, you'll learn what the game recognizes and what it doesn't.
BA is also great if you have more than one person with a profile saved on the game card. Not only does everyone compete to get the fastest times on training exercises, but there is also a fun feature that allows you to compare your drawing skills with everyone else. Every so often, you will be asked to sketch pictures of common objects, and then you get to see how the drawings from the other profiles compare to yours. It's a neat little diversion from the daily training regiment.
BRAIN AGE 2
Brain Age 2 (BA2) retains the same format as its predecessor, but it includes all new training exercises and 120 new sudoku puzzles. As with BA, you'll need to play on a daily basis to unlock additional training exercises. And instead of comparing drawings if there are multiple profiles saved on the same game card, you now get to compare acrostics. You're given a word, and you have to come up with an acrostic that describes that word. In my opinion, this isn't as fun as comparing drawings.
If you had no trouble getting a brain age of 20 in BA, don't expect the same will be true for BA2 - the training exercises and tests are more difficult this time around. Before, all of the exercises were at least doable, but this time there are some that will drive you nuts. For example, in Word Blend, multiple words are spoken at the same time and you have to identify each word. If it sounds easy, trust me, it's not. That's why if you're new to the brain training games I recommend that you start with the first BA.
Although still not perfect, the voice and handwriting recognition in BA2 is improved from the first game. The new troublesome word to pronounce is "scissors", but that's the only real noticeable problem. Character recognition is much better, so if you begin with BA2 and then try the original BA, you may become frustrated if the way you drew a certain character for BA2 no longer works. This is another reason to try BA before BA2.
BIG BRAIN ACADEMY
Big Brain Academy (BBA) is quite different than either of the Brain Age games. For starters, it has cartoon-like visuals, which gears it more towards kids, but that's not to say that this is a kid's game. The exercises are quite challenging, but overall the game has a less scientific feel than the Brain Age games, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it.
One good thing about BBA is that all of the exercises are available to you from the start - there's no need to unlock them. This gives you plenty of variety right out of the box, but on the other hand it gives the game less long-lasting appeal. Once you earn medals on all of the exercises, there's little reason to try and beat your previous scores.
Pros: simple, enjoyable exercises; motivates you to play every day; sudoku
Cons: most content takes time to unlock; some voice/handwriting recognition issues
Recommended for: newcomers to brain training games; all ages
Brain Age 2
Pros: fun, challenging exercises; motivates you to play every day; sudoku; improved voice/handwriting recognition
Cons: most content takes time to unlock; some exercises are too challenging
Recommended for: anyone who enjoyed the first Brain Age; all ages, especially teens and older
Big Brain Academy
Pros: all exercises available from beginning; can play for long or short sessions; feels more like a game than Brain Age
Cons: little long-term appeal/replayability; may look too "kiddy" for some
Recommended for: those not fond of the regimented feel of the Brain Age games; all ages, especially the younger crowd
If you're new to the brain training games, I recommend starting with Brain Age. If you like it, try moving on to Brain Age 2 for a fresh challenge; otherwise, see if Big Brain Academy is more what you're looking for. For $20 each, though, none of these three games is a bad purchase, and it's not essential that you begin with any particular game. Whatever you do, though, stay away from those cheap knock-off games (e.g. Brain Boost). They may be a few dollars cheaper, but they're definitely not worth it.