Braining is Good: A Brief History of Brain Age – Feature
Information about Braining is Good: A Brief History of Brain Age – Feature
Just remember: the brain ages are fake and the points don’t matter.
Nintendo in the early 2000s was going through immense change. In 2002, Hiroshi Yamauchi retired as President of the company, a title he held for more than 50 years. In his stead stepped Satoru Iwata, a developer-turned-manager who was born a decade after Yamauchi took over Nintendo. Iwata was handed the reins during a tumultuous time. While the company still had the handheld market cornered with the Game Boy Advance, they were firmly in third place in the home console space. Sony, who came onto the scene in the 1990s amidst the fallout of a doomed relationship with Nintendo, was leading the market with the runaway success of the PlayStation 2. That wasn’t as shocking, but the emergence of the Xbox from industry newcomer Microsoft was potentially more concerning. For as beloved as the GameCube was among a sect of Nintendo fans, it just wasn’t working in the mainstream. For the first time in their video game life, Nintendo faced the very real and present danger of losing their place in the industry, especially after Sega departed from the hardware business after the failure of the Dreamcast.
Now we all know how this ends. Iwata led the charge of the Nintendo DS and Wii, and the company came roaring back only to face even worse losses with the Wii U before finding unprecedented success with the Switch. But there’s a sidebar to that big picture that was arguably instrumental to the mid-2000s turnaround: brain games.
A part of Iwata’s mission as he ran Nintendo was to expand the gaming audience – a central focus of the “blue ocean” strategy that fed into the intuitive touch controls of the DS and the motion controls of the Wii. Iwata’s first console launch was the DS and on the day the handheld launched, he met with Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, the author behind Train Your Brain, a multi-million-selling book all about how regular calculations and mental exercises could improve your smarts. After that meeting, Iwata had Dr. Kawashima’s approval to make a video game based on his ideas.
The sued by the Federal Trade Commission in 2016, under the auspices of falsely advertising how their mini-games could help players keep their brain from aging as quickly (as well as preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s). Lumosity was ordered to pay $2 million to settle the issue and it’s likely that Nintendo saw this play out and merely noped out of trying to figure out how Brain Age could work in America in this day and age.
Compounding on that is the stylus that is essentially required for optimal Brain Training play on Switch. In Japan and Europe, the physical release came bundled with a stylus. Meanwhile in America, Nintendo passed on including a stylus with Super Mario Maker 2, a game with a wider appeal at the time of launch. This comes up whenever smaller regions get cooler physical packaging for games, but it’s always worth noting that the cost of shipping larger physical bundles in a region as spread out as North America is far different than doing the same in a smaller region like Japan.
With the launch of Big Brain Academy on Switch, it’s likely the hope for Brain Age for Switch coming to America might be dead, or at best on life support. That’s largely in part to Big Brain Academy not making any kind of real world health benefit claim. It’s just a lighthearted party game that wrinkles your brain. I appreciate that Nintendo is still letting their DS-era success live on, even if I would eat my hat if an entry in their brain games genre threatened 20 million unit sales again.