There must be a demographic out there that refuses to play games just to have fun. The Nintendo DS knows this market well: the people that won't play a game unless it's educational, or beneficial in some way. Oddly enough, based on the games out for this demographic, it would appear that companies think these people are stupid, and only want the same thing over and over. So it's not surprising that a new concept like Majesco's Left Brain, Right Brain
would get muddled up in an attempt to turn it into a clone of a brain game.
Left Brain, Right Brain's purpose is to train the player's non-dominant hand through a series of touch screen minigames. That has very little to do with the brain, other than the most basic concept of each brain hemisphere controlling the opposite appendage. Calling the game Left Hand, Right Hand probably wouldn't have had that "brain game" appeal though. The game makes an attempt at pretending to be a brain game by stating the theory that right-brain oriented people are more creative and left-brain people are more logical, and then erroneously states that this determines right or left handedness. Luckily that's as far as the pseudo intellectual façade goes.
The actual game is far simpler than the package claims. It's a series of 15 minigames that test precision, reaction time, and steadiness. The touch-screen controlled games are broken into five levels of difficulty, and are played by holding the DS book style. The exercises first has players record data with their dominant hand, then flip the DS around, so the touch screen is closest to their other hand, and repeat the exercises.
The minigames are well varied. Some involve quick reflexes to smash blocks or pop balloons. Others require precision to trace lines or complete mazes. They're well designed in the sense that they seem very easy when played with our dominant hand, and only after switching did we realize we've never tried to fling meteors away from Earth's atmosphere southpaw-style.
We hit that.
There's a definite learning curve that comes with the set up. The instructions for each exercise is very vague, and they're all timed, so every second lost is precious. The player is at a disadvantage the first time through. We never did as well as we could have on our first run. When the DS was flipped, we knew how to play the game, and considering a lot of games are very basic, we easily matched, and sometimes surpassed most of the first games.
Of course, to be accurate, we should replay the game with our dominant hand and get an accurate comparison. But since there's nothing to stop players from cheating, players will have to be really motivated to want to play the game accurately. That'd be more likely a case if there was any motivation to improve, besides getting the little talking hand character to stop getting angry. And boy does he get angry. We mess up writing the letter "B" and Hamburger Helper's little brother is all up in our grill.
The problem is that, even playing the game fairly, Left Brain, Right Brain is too easy. The balance test gave us a score of 93 percent balanced, right off the bat. Why would we want to go play this game for weeks to only increase a measly seven percent? If we loaded up Brain Age and the floating head told us we had a brain age of 25 right from the start, we'd probably turn it off, satisfied that we were plenty smart enough.
The reason we're apparently so awesome at left-handed whack-a-mole is that Left Brain, Right Brain doesn't measure scores very precisely. The maze, for instance scores based on how many mazes get finished before the player hits a wall, but doesn't take into account how fast the maze was completed, or how far the player was into it before they messed up. Variables like this greatly change how well players actually perform with each hand. We played games where we knew we had done worse. It just felt worse. Yet the game said we were a master and had us move on.
Even for players that may be ambidextrous-impaired, motivation is slim. The game does not store data over time, so there is no way to see where the player is improving, or by how much.
Left Brain Right Brain is a neat concept, but it doesn't present that concept in a way that sells. We're all for learning to be ambidextrous, but the game doesn't really teach that. Playing Whack-a-Mole with our left hand isn't going to make us comfortable with our left hand. If the game was more accurate in it's measurement of skill, and there was a way to track progress, then it would at least be somewhat useful. As it stands, even though the game claims we're a master of balance, we'd probably still miss a left-handed high five.