Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain Review

Three things I like about this game, and one I don't

Big Brain Academy - Brain vs. Brain

By Paul Hunter

The original Big Brain Academy on Nintendo DS came about during one of the company's most experimental eras focusing on new IPs taking advantage of the console's dual screens and touchscreen controls. The game was similar to Brain Age with it's brain-bending activities but was more colourful and casual, perfect for multiplayer sessions with the family. A couple of years later a Wii sequel arrived introducing fun new games to measure your "brain's weight" along with an online mode where players can compete against one another.

Fast forward 14 years and the series is back on Nintendo Switch in Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain. This edition introduces new activities to test your mental muscle, a 4-player multiplayer mode to go brain-to-brain with friends and family, plus a cool new online Ghost Clash to challenge players around the world. It's time to flex that big brain power, here are three things I liked about the game...and one I didn't.

Liked: How Fun the Brainy Minigames Are

At its core, Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain is a puzzle game where you strengthen your brain by doing activities across five categories: Identify, Memorize, Analyze, Compute and Visualize. Each category has four minigames, so 20 in all, and every single one of them I found fun to play.

Running through the categories, the first is Identify and these activities require you to spot objects and patterns as fast as you can. My favourite minigame in this category is Whack Match, which is a fast-paced game where you have to whack moles that match specific pictures. It's so much fun!

Next up is the Memorize category where as you'd expect you quickly memorize objects and then test your retention power. There's a wild version of the shell game in this category that I love because every time you get one right the next round will add another shell or two, and it gets intense fast. My favourite Memorize game though, and also the hardest, is Reverse Retention that presents you with a string of numbers or objects and then you have to recite them back in the exact reverse order. It's easy when there's only two or three numbers to remember but gets super challenging when the lists swell up to five or more.

The third category is Analyze and is easiest one of the hardest. Returning is the classic Heavyweight minigame where you're shown a bunch of objects on scales and need to decide which one is the heaviest. Having play this in past Big Brain games, it was easy to pick up but still challenging to master. My favourite minigame in this group is Speed Sorting, a rapid decision-making test where you need to decide which picture fits a description. For instance, you might be shown a mountain, lion, bird and flower and be asked to identify which one is a plant. It sounds easy, but soon you'll need to rank objects from biggest to smallest, or fastest to slowest and it gets hard—especially when the clock is always ticking!

The fourth category is Compute and it's so much fun. It's a math-centric area that'll test your ability to add numbers, count fast, adjust time and even work with fractions. My favourite minigame in this category is Balloon Burst that tasks you with popping balloons in order from lowest to highest. What makes this minigame such a fun challenge is the balloons spin so you'll need to quickly identity upside down numbers (damn you 6 and 9!).

Last but not least, the final (and sadly my worst-performing, eek!) is Visualize. These minigames test your perception and ability to recognize shadow objects. I had the most fun playing Get In Shape, a game where you need to pick the pieces to complete the puzzle. At first you'll complete simple shapes like a two-piece house, but the difficulty quickly ramps up with 10-piece or more objects that are complex to build under pressure. I'm a right-brain thinker strong in the math and sciences so I think that's why I didn't do so well in visualize category. But hey, I still had a lot of fun so that means a lot.

Liked: Ghost Clash and Multiplayer

Brain vs. Brain has a solid single-player mode where you can practice activities or test your brain power, however, I had the most enjoyment playing the multiplayer modes.

My favourite is Ghost Clash, an asynchronous multiplayer mode where you face off against 'ghost' versions of other players, be it your family, friends or total strangers from around the world. The way it works is simple: players record themselves doing an activity and upload their 'ghost' data to Nintendo servers for other players to download and play against. Depending on whether you win or lose you'll gain or minus points from your trophy score, and this score determines the global leaderboards. Each month you'll get ranked on the "Big Brain World Ranking" that compares your scores to others. Ranking high can be challenging, too—as you gain trophy points you'll face off against increasingly tougher opponents in the ultimate brain vs. brain competition.

Big Brain Academy also has a Party local multiplayer mode for 2-4 players. It can be played while docked or in tablet mode with each player having their own controller or you can play in handheld mode with both players using touchscreen controls. Players then take turns spinning a wheel to decide which activity to play and the game tallies your total wins. If your family loves games nights in, this is a really fun game for some light-hearted competition.

Liked: The Funny Avatar Outfits

When you first start the game you'll create an avatar consisting of skin colour, hair cut, facial hair, outfit and accessories. At first the outfits and accessory options are quite basic, like a green shirt or a straw hat, but there are over 300 extra items to unlock. And you unlock items every three or four activities you complete, so quite fast. I've now got funny pajamas, a space suit, funky headphones, a thief mask and many other hilarious accessories.

You can also equip silly taglines that other online players will see like my person fav "Horses are better than people". You'll also unlock dozens more as you play the Ghost Clash mode. While all these outfits and taglines are ridiculous, they're good for a laugh and reinforce the game's fun, silly vibe.

Didn't Like

The main complaint I have with Big Brain Academy is simply the lack of game modes. The previous two games had more, so it's a bit disappointing at minimum the old modes like Mental Marathon or Mind Sprint didn't make a return. Ghost Clash is a nice addition, and there's a secret "Super Practice" mode you can unlock in single-player should you achieve a Gold rating in all 20 activities, but it still would have been nice to have more modes to extend the game's longevity.

The Verdict

Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain is a real blast, especially Ghost Clash mode and the Party multiplayer mode. I really enjoyed all 20 activities and their inherent fun-factor encourages me to come back daily to see if I can beat my high score. If you enjoyed the previous Big Brain Academy games or are looking for the next family multiplayer title, this is the one.

Final Score: 8/10 - Great

Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain details

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Party, Puzzle
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

A key was provided by the publisher. Last updated January 2022.