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Genre: Edutainment
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: Any CPU @ 500 MHz    RAM: 256 MB    Hard Disk: 36 MB    Graphics: 800x600

The Amazing Brain Train
October 29, 2008 | Richard Hallas

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The Amazing Title Screen
How's your brain feeling today? Tired? Lethargic? A bit deflated and run-down? What you need is a dose of Fizzical energy! Open your mind to The Amazing Brain Train and, through the power of Professor Fizzwizzle's reflected genius, you too can pep yourself up to such a state of high-IQ fervour that you can power a steam-train with the very energy of your thoughts. That's what's known as bringing yourself to a head of steam.

The Amazing Brain Train is a typically quirky and individual new take on the supposedly intelligence-boosting brain-training genre that has become popular recently, and takes a distinctly different approach that features Professor Fizzwizzle, a steam engine and lots of cute animals. The Professor Fizzwizzle series may only have reached its fourth instalment, but already it has established itself as being original, intelligent, polished, fun and educational (a rare enough combination), and where Professor Fizzwizzle adapts an existing game-type (to date, Breakout in FizzBall and generic brain-training here), he does so in a thoroughly fresh and original way.

If you've tried Brain Challenge on your iPod and have been put off by its clinical, pseudo-medical approach, or have played one of the many other similar brain-training games and found them irritating or just generally rather dull, give Professor Fizzwizzle's angle on the genre a try. Although it may not necessarily convert you, it's likely to provide a lot more entertainment along the way than other versions.

The point is that the Amazing Brain Train is just a lot more entertaining than other games of this type that I've seen before. It's very much in the style of the genre in terms of basic content, of course: there's a series of mini-games (mental exercises, in effect) that attempt to train your brain to be more agile. The difference is in the presentation, the overall quality of the components, and the extra ideas that make the whole experience more interesting than other run-of-the-mill alternatives. The play on words in the title ('train' as training and as steam locomotive) is a good indicator of the way in which the game avoids being po-faced about its subject matter, which is a trap that other similar offerings have seemed all too eager to fall into.

There are actually fifteen mini-games in the Amazing Brain Train: five categories of three games each. I'll list and summarise them in the next section, but first let's take an overview of what playing the Amazing Brain Train is all about.

Game modes
The objective throughout is, of course, to perform as well as possible in the various brain-stretching mini-games, the act of improving one's mental dexterity being the underlying motivation for playing at all. Beyond that basic aim, though, there are three quite different ways of playing the game.

The most obviously game-like, and unique, of the three is Quest mode. In this mode you play out a little story: Professor Fizzwizzle is the driver of the eponymous Brain Train, a steam locomotive which is powered by mental energy rather than by coal (shades of Back to the Future III). In order to drive the train, you must play the mini-games to generate 'fuel'. The train trundles around a track which is initially only partially complete; playing the various quests allows the remaining sections of track to be unlocked, which in turn provides shortcuts and allows new quests to be accessed. Various animals are positioned around the track, and it is for these animals that the quests must be completed. You'll have to do things like retrieving a hippo's lost wig, transporting a photo of a supercilious chicken to a lovelorn sheep, collecting a penguin's suit from the dry-cleaners after it's been mixed up with a wedding dress, and so on. It's all very twee, but generally in a comical way rather than a toe-curling one. All these quests merely involve playing the mini-games in order to power your train along its various journeys.

The second way of playing Brain Train is Test mode, in which you will play a series of five mini-games in succession: one of the three games from each of the five categories. At the end of each test (and on completion of each task in Quest mode) you will be given a report on how you performed in all the tests, and a final score. Personally, I liked Test mode best. Although Quest mode was fairly entertaining, I found that Test mode was quite compulsive and made me want to keep trying to beat my own previous scores, particularly because each test was graded at the end and I could track my performance more consistently than in the relatively free-form Quest mode.

The third and final way to play is in Practice mode. Here, you can play any of the fifteen games endlessly, either against the clock (just like in all the other modes) or without a time limit.


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