What if Nintendo made a game for Kinect? Namco Bandai does its best to answer that question with Dr. Kawashima's Body and Brain Connection, a "Brain Age" game for Microsoft's motion-control peripheral. This family-oriented minigame collection, featuring Xbox Avatars alongside the ever-digitized Dr. Kawashima, makes for an experience that seems more than inspired by Nintendo's recent efforts -- it's a total knockoff. The UI, the music and the gameplay all feel ripped from the Brain Age series and Nintendo's Wii Fit games.
In some respects that's a compliment, but gamers who have already written off edutainment and exergames won't find much reason to give Body and Brain Connection a try. You know exactly what to expect from this game.
As with Brain Age on DS and Wii Fit, Body and Brain Connection starts with an initial test that establishes a baseline from which your progress will be tracked. After playing a few minigames, you'll be given an introductory "brain age" -- a supposed representation of your brain function. Ideally, you'll be striving to lower your brain age to below your actual age, an indication that your mind is healthier than average.
To get the highest score (and the lowest brain age), you'll need to work through the various games as quickly as possible, while remaining accurate. This is a Kinect title, so obviously the "brain" games are designed to incorporate your body. One of the simpler games tests your memory: multiple Avatars briefly appear on screen, each in a different pose. After they disappear, the group will return with one Avatar missing. You'll have to recall the missing character and act out his or her pose.
I saw a few more noteworthy challenges, including a simple math quiz that's converted into a soccer minigame. As equations appear on the screen, you must kick the correct answer. Another game tests your multitasking ability: you use your arms as bridges to support colored-coded cars. As they enter the screen from the left, you must move your arms to steer the cars to similarly colored destinations. But the most intimidating game that I saw had to be the one that features Pac-Man characters. You must devote one hand to tracking a moving piece of fruit on one side of the screen, while using your other hand to guide Pac-Man on the opposite side, around obstacles and clear of ghosts. This minigame requires you to pay attention to both halves of the screen and coordinate your arms to perform two different actions.
Dr. Kawashima's Body and Brain Connection is an entertaining, well-constructed minigame collection. It's too soon to say if it will have staying power, but It offers the same kind of meta progression game, in addition to individual goals for each minigame, that has hooked Brain Age and Wii Fit players. If it proves to outlast its gimmicky appeal, then Body and Brain Connection could enjoy the success of a true Nintendo game, and that would be an achievement unto itself.