Reviewed: August 1, 2007
Released: June 18, 2007
For awhile it seemed that the NDS might have the monopoly on educational handheld games, but Midway is launching their own educational assault on your brain with their new PSP learning and brain-enhancing game, Hot Brain.
Hot Brain is one of those games that spans generations with a nice assortment of puzzles and challenges covering logic, memory, math, language and concentration. There is no way to filter the questions based on age or educational level so younger kids might get left behind when it comes to the math and language skills portions, but anybody can handle the puzzles with pictures.
And much like the claims made by the Brain Age games on the NDS, the more you use your brain the sharper and faster it responds. This is proven to be true after only a few days of playing Hot Brain thanks to a daily challenge session that tracks your “brain temperature” and keeps a running line chart showing your ups and downs. Interestingly enough, the more consecutive days I played this game the higher my brain temperature got, but if I took a couple days off it would even out or even drop.
Of course some of this has to do with the random selection of games you are given for each daily challenge. Out of the 15 possible games there are just some challenges that I am not good at regardless of how much I practice, and when those games become part of my daily challenge my score and brain temperature will obviously take a dip.
After the opening movie where you are introduced to Professor Ed Warmer (get it…heEd Warmer) he will take you on a tour of the multi-level institute where each floor represents a different type of challenge. You’ll need to create a profile so you can track your brain temperature separately from anybody else who might be doing the same on your PSP.
You can dive right into any of the challenges in any of the categories using the Practice mode. There are three types of challenges in each of the five categories for a total of 15 possible educational mini-games. You can also pick the difficulty level for your practice session. But all this is merely practice for your daily test.
Choosing Test from the menu will initiate a series of five challenges, one from each category. Each challenge is timed so you’ll want to answer quickly but accurately. The challenges start off easy then get progressively harder the more correct answers you choose, or if you should start missing a lot, the challenge will dynamically lower in difficulty.
Once you have completed all five challenges your score will be calculated and displayed on the final results screen along with your daily brain temperature, which is added to the line graph showing your overall progress from day one. It’s a pretty clever system and one that really makes you want to try and play the game daily. If you can incorporate this into your daily morning routine (not in the shower please) you’ll actually find yourself more mentally awake for the rest of the day.
The puzzles range in type, difficulty, and fun factor. When it comes to Logic you have the Sequencer where you are shown a series of items or shapes and you must determine the next one in the sequence. Shape Logic either combines or subtracts various shapes from each other and you must identify the resulting shape. Back Seat Driver is my personal favorite and you are shown a sequence of directions a cab will take through the city and you must pick the final destination.
I have an excellent memory so the Memory category is probably my favorite with great games like Scene of the Crime where you are shown a picture to study then you must identify that picture or a part of it from a line-up of choices on the next screen. Musical Memory and Pinball Wizard are both Simon clones where you must memorize either patterns of sound or cardinal directions (shown as pinball bumpers) and repeat those patterns using the face buttons.
Math features puzzles like Equation Sensation where you are either calculating results or know the results and are placing the proper expressions into the calculation to get those results. High Low gives you four equations that you must calculate in your head then sort the results in either ascending or descending order. Cruise Ship is probably the hardest, at least on the more difficult rounds. People will be getting on and off the boat from multiple directions, either via the dock or dropping in from helicopter. Some will exit via the dock and others will jump ship. After a short time you’ll have to answer how many people are left on the boat.
Language skills include alphabetizing words, which isn’t so hard until they ask you to do it by the second letter in the word. Spelling Bee asks you to either find the misspelled word or the word spelled correctly out of four choices, and Picto-Rhymes shows you a picture then asks you to choose the word that rhymes with the name of the image.
Concentration puzzles include Untangle where you have two columns of yarn, each of the four balls in each column is connected to the other column by a twisted and tangled thread that you must trace and match up. The paths of yarn get really twisted and intertwined on the later levels. Shape Up gives you a bunch of small shapes and asks you to figure out what final shape can be constructed from the pieces, and Combine shows you part of a shape and the final shape and asks you to select the missing piece to complete the desired shape.
Words really can't do this review justice so please check out the screenshots and it should make a lot more sense. While there was no individual test I truly disliked, there were obviously many that I did better on than others. Hot Brain really challenges you to master all the individual challenges so you can continually increase your daily brain temperature.
Trying to rate the graphics on Hot Brain is like scoring how well your geometry homework looks or how stunning your SAT exams are. Despite the educational overtones of Hot Brain, Midway has done a fantastic job with the graphics, not only with the stunning CG opening movies and charming character design an animation for the Ed Warmer character, but also the interactive elevator transitions between learning centers (even if you will start skipping them after the first hour).
The puzzles and challenges are also quite nice, despite primitive usage of generic shapes, icons and photos. Everything is crisp, clean and very easy on the eyes. Most of the backgrounds are white creating sharp contrast and easily identifiable shapes and button icons. The puzzles that do offer non-white backgrounds like the Cruise Ship and Taxi levels are simple but charming.
There is some nice music and sound for the opening movie but for most of the game you’ll get some standard musical fare for the menus and nothing but the ticking clock during the actual challenges. There are a few specific sound effects like the engine of the taxi as it drives to its destination, and the sound of a helicopter as it drops people on the deck of the cruise ship or the footsteps of people boarding the ship from the other side.
There are also some interesting sounds for the Musical Memory challenge as well as pinball bumper sounds for that particular memory game. Hot Brain doesn’t go out of its way to make use of any creative sounds. It’s purely functional.
One surprising treat is the use of Fred Willard as the voice for Ed Warmer. He does a great job during the opening movie as well as the tutorial and even a few snippets throughout the practice and testing sessions. There is even a behind-the-scenes bonus movie you can watch with Fred talking about his voice roll.
Hot Brain is $30, which might seem a bit steep for a game you’ll probably only play 15-30 minutes at a time, but if you really get into it, this is one game that you might just play everyday for a long, long time. For the first couple weeks I actually played the game every morning and enjoyed tracking my brain temperature over time, but then I would start to play other PSP games and it would be in suspend mode and I really didn’t want to swap UMD’s, and much like any type of exercise, once you break the routine it’s hard to get back into it.
Hot Brain also offers some multiplayer modes for 2-4 players via Ad Hoc, but there is no GameShare so everybody needs a PSP and a copy of the game if they want to play Think Tank, a cooperative race to get a single brain to reach the ON FIRE temperature or Brain Race; a mode where up to four players race to get their own brain to RED HOT by answering the same questions under the same time limits.
It would have really been nice for some Pass-the PSP game modes and a way to track multiple profile brain temperatures on a single line chart. This would have made the game much more competitive between family members and a perfect diversion for road trips and such.
I really enjoyed Hot Brain. It was a nice alternative to a lot of the other “mindless” games I play on the PSP and other game system, and I really believe it did sharpen my brain, at least from a mental awareness level, each day I played it. I don’t think it really improved my language or math skills, but that’s also not the purpose.
Hot Brain is more of a tool than a game. Think of it as a piece of exercise equipment in a gym for the mind. If you can discipline yourself to play it on a daily basis you’ll easily get your money’s worth. It’s a fine additional to any PSP owner’s library, especially if you have a family with kids ranging from middle school to college who need to get some extra blood flowing upstairs.