Brain Quest - Game Review - Nintendo DS for Ages 10-12

Brain Quest Grades 5 & 6 on the Nintendo DS may be designed for elementary school kids age 10-12, but even if you have a PhD, you’ll find yourself stumped on some of the questions.  Do you know the order that Germany invade the following:  Belgium, France, Norway, Poland?  Could you match iron, gold, copper, and silver with their respective Latin names ferrum, cuprum, aurum and argentum?  Can you identify a fraction, decimal, prime and even number?  In Brain Quest, EA Games has applied what video game makers have learned to do better than most educators: lure kids into developing skills with ever increasing challenges that actually frustrate for a while and then deliver the satisfaction of success.  

Brain Quest has four playing modes: Brain Mode, Quest Mode, Multiplayer and a Sudoku game category with different grid sizes and difficulty levels.  In Brain Mode you choose questions from one of six categories: English, Science, Math, History, Geography, and Grab Bag.  There is also a “Random” button so that you don’t know what category is coming next.  Sometimes the questions are grouped around a theme, such as the Civil War, and after the answers, your guide gives you additional information about the events.

In Quest Mode, you face three computer challengers in a game environment that determines the category of question.  Change the scene and change the category.  The soccer field leads to math questions, the garage band to English, the auto rally to science, etc.

Often “grade level” or “age-appropriate” labels in games aim for the lowest common denominator, the minimum of skill required to reach the oldest possible mark.  With kids, the older the marker, the more attractive the game, skill or event.  So it sometimes feels that publishers have dumbed their games down.  But boy oh boy, not here.  There are easy questions for fifth and sixth graders like putting four words in alphabetical order or multiplying 6 x 3.  There are medium difficulty ones.  (What is the minimum number of atoms to make a molecule? ) And really hard ones. (Did you ever hear of Akbar, the Mughul Emperor who ruled India?)  Then there are the “genius point” questions.  A sample “genius” question is to know the name of the famous Civil War photographer Matthew Brady.  

Once you have enough points, you can select Collectibles in the main menu and go to a screen where you can buy ‘stickers’ to put into the game scenery.  Some are simple stickers, but the higher points unlock animated stickers like a flashing scoreboard or exploding fireworks.

My college professor niece and nephew do not have any video games for their son, but after playing Brain Quest for a few minutes, they were intrigued enough to consider it for times when they are traveling.

It is no small feat if Brain Quest can simply make answering questions like this fun. The reality is that children are being evaluated by tests that use many of these techniques, and playing a “game” like Brain Quest not only gives the distraction of a game, it also teaches test taking skills while testing general knowledge in a sort of calisthenics for the mind. It does not teach understanding, and so is not a substitute for real education.  But it does increase the ‘cultural currency’  - Can they match the Shakespearean couples Anthony & Cleopatra, Troilus & Cressida, Romeo & Juliet, Kate & Petruchio -  that has been shown to help a child succeed in higher levels of school and college.  

Brain Quest website
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform:  Nintendo DS
Rating: Everyone
Grade Level: 5-6

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