At the risk of sounding immature, I’d like to point out that the the title for this game had me laughing like a twelve year old because of how close it sounds to “smart ass.” With that juvenile behavior out of the way, Smart As (heh) offers the player a collection of mini games designed to test and strengthen their brain power. Although the game feels about six years too late, Smart As offers a nice set of diversions that’ll keep players interested until the inevitable boredom sets in.
Let’s just come out and say it: Smart As is essentially Brain Age with an English flavor. Instead of a polygonal Dr. Kawashima cheering you on through a range of challenges, Monty Python alumnus John Cleese is your chief motivator for a series of interactive brain teasers designed to boost the areas of the brain by way of observation, arithmetic, vocabulary and logic puzzles. The main part of the game involves completing a set of daily challenges comprised of four puzzles from each area that determine your overall percentage of brain power. Many of the vocabulary and math puzzles are simple enough and don’t venture far from material learned in elementary school. Observation and logic puzzles on the other hand require some finesse and mental gymnastics in order to see them through. Your performance in each activity is measured by the time it takes for you to complete a puzzle. Making mistakes, whether it be a misspelled word, an incorrect sum or a mistaken object, adds a five second penalty. Earning a really great time on a puzzle grants a maximum of three gold stars and performing less than ideal yields fewer stars and some slightly admonishing words from Cleese.
For a large portion of the activities, the Vita’s touch pad controls work really well. I did run into some trouble with tasks prompting me to fill in the missing number or letter on a whiteboard because it had difficulty interpreting my writing. As a result, I got more than a fair share of of unjust penalties. Another trouble spot came from the British voice over of the “speak and spell”-style game. Certain words have different pronunciations depending on your position on either side of the Atlantic and despite repeating certain words over and over, I found myself in a state of cultural confusion and received a really poor score.
After completing a daily challenge, your shuttled back to the main menu where you can access personal stats and compare them against other players connected to the in-game network. Other personal triumphs can be shared to others using the built in Facebook and Twitter interfaces. There’s also a Free Play section where you can check out a large collection of additional games that can be unlocked by completing the daily challenges.
Games such as these don’t need to have flashy graphics because they’ll just get in the way and skew test results. That said, Smart As does look pretty good for what it is. There are all sorts of three dimensional bits and bobs that hang around outside the playing field and never get in the way or impede your ability to perform. The tests themselves are often colorful and placing the interactive elements atop stark white backgrounds really makes them “pop.”
There are two groups of people in this world: those who really dig brain training exercises and those who don’t. Your enjoyment of Smart As will largely be determined by which camp you fall into. When the Nintendo DS came out, Brain Age was all the rage because there wasn’t anything like it at the time. These days, not so much. Frankly, the biggest appeal to the game outside of the daily activities is the chance to listen to John Cleese but I wouldn’t recommend spending money for that alone. If you happen to be a competitive player, there’s the draw of constantly pushing for better completion times against others. Other than that, Smart As just doesn’t have much staying power once you get tired of playing through mini games.
Smart As is quaint. So much time has passed since Brain Age took the world by storm that Smart As doesn’t hold its appeal after a few hours. The game is obviously catering to the casual Vita owner and they are likelier to enjoy this solidly built and competently made game. There really isn’t much to be said about Smart As. It works as advertised and accomplishes what it set out to do - no more, no less.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.