April 16, 2007 - Your stranglehold on brain-training games is over, Nintendo DS. Midway is about to start getting PSP users' gray matter in tip-top shape with Hot Brain: Fire Up Your Mind, a title packing five categories of mind-bending brainteasers.
Midway brought Hot Brain -- set for a June release -- into the IGN offices last week and put my mind through the paces in exercises testing logic, memory, math, language and concentration. I ordered numbers from highest to lowest, picked out misspelled words and matched images.
It might sound easy, but the key to Hot Brain is getting as many correct answers as you can in a limited timeframe. See, Professor Warmer -- voiced by Idle Hands star and Christopher Guest-favorite Fred Willard -- is running an institute in the game that studies the result of critical thinking on brain temperature. He says that when you're crunching an equation or word problem, more blood's flowing to your noggin and your mush mound is getting warmer.
He wants to see how hot he can get you.
Each timed exam calculates your brain temperature based on how many problems you solve in a specific time period and how many times you screw up. You can practice the 15 exams all you want -- earning "calories" that unlock the game's three difficulties -- and try for the day's best score in Test mode. The mode grabs one exam from each category, calculates your overall brain temperature, records your daily high and plots it on a colorful chart to track the rise and fall of your brain functions.
Even if you stick with one difficulty in the practice mode, the puzzles are going to get tougher. As you get better, you'll get deeper and deeper into the levels and the challenges will ask more and more of you -- even my beloved "Musical Memory."
A member of the memory category, Musical Memory harkens back to the glory days of Simon and features four images that are each assigned a PSP button and sound. At the onset of the puzzle, the game runs through a sequence -- a duck quacks, a bird chirps, the duck quacks again -- and you have to duplicate it. The game was great at first, but the better I got, the longer the sequences got. Where I was once ordering motorcycle engines and helicopter whirls with ease, I was left to whimper as I tried to figure out if the seventh sound in the Professor Warmer series was Fred Willard groaning or laughing.
Of course, at least Musical Memory ramps up to being tough. "Back-Seat Driver" just made me feel like an idiot from the get go.
Uh, is it brawn?
The final test in the Logic category -- which features non-threatening, guard-lowering challenges such as creating shapes -- Back-Seat Driver shows users a sequence of arrows and then has them look at a top-down, grid map of a city. The player has to apply the arrows to a taxi's route and decipher where the cab will stop. Even on easy, it kicked my ass, and I ended the exam with an "Icy" brain temperature of 32 degrees.
Whenever you think you've honed your skills to a point that won't make you look like a fool in front of your friends, you can gather a group and take on two ad-hoc multiplayer modes. "Brain Race" pits two to four players in a competition to see who can get his or her brain "On Fire" first, while "Think Tank" has two to four team members working toward getting their collective brain "On Fire."
Although it was still using placeholder graphics in a few spots, the build we saw of Hot Brain was all but completed, played well and even allowed you to skip the Fred Willard excerpts if you wanted. It isn't a sure thing yet, but if you've been waiting for a brain-stimulating title on your PSP, Hot Brain might have your number this summer.