Regardless of what FOX News broadcasts to its impressionable listeners, video games don’t exist to promote violence. Sure, there are quite a few titles out there that feature it, but there’s nothing about the medium that asks people to hurt their neighbours, and the same goes for the film industry. As ideal scapegoats for people who want to explain human abnormalities, entertainment options usually feel the wrath of misguided folks. It’s unfortunate, but it happens regularly, and the fact is that those who don’t understand the interactive hobby that we gamers share tend to look at it as something that is devoid of positives, although that is far from the truth.
As someone who has spent over twenty years with some sort of a controller or handheld system in hand, I’ve been lucky enough to become a part of many interactive experiences, including quite a few that would be deemed violent. Of course, as folks who understand the medium will state, those games are forms of escapism, not sadistic teachers. We don’t play the games because we want to reenact them in real-life, which is the truth. Just like all of the non-violent games and films out there, violent ones are entertaining experiences that do not propel their users to hurt others. In fact, some of them teach us things regarding war, history and other topics.
What doesn’t get publicized very often is the fact that many video games expand the classroom into fun and interactive spaces. For example, games tailored to children often teach them the alphabet and how to count, while layered underneath of the Assassin’s Creed series’ stealthy incapacitations is a wealth of interesting history for players to read about and interact within. Going further with this trend, we have games like Brain Age and Sony’s recently released PS Vita title, Smart As… both of which promote learning and brain health through the inclusion of fun, colourful and addicting math, language and related challenges.
Through Smart As… Sony Computer Entertainment’s aim is to get gamers hooked on improving their mental skills, by bringing classroom experiences to its relatively new handheld. Of course, unlike the desk-based learning that we all know and either love or hate, the presented challenges aren’t slow-paced, labour-intensive or overly complex. Instead, they’re quick, accessible and relatively simple gameplay scenarios that are actually entertaining to play as opposed to being dull. As a result, the title is a great option for those who are looking to keep their brains fresh while commuting, or parents who are looking to add an educational title to their child’s Vita collection.
The most unique thing about this release and its focus on short burst gameplay is the fact that it promotes being social and sharing results. Thanks to the inclusion of Facebook and Twitter connectivity, players can prove their smarts to friends and family members who may end up purchasing a copy for themselves just so that they can try to achieve a better result. It’s joyful competition like that which makes learning, and just about anything positive, fun. However, it must be said that you don’t have to use those features in order to have a good time with this game, nor do you have to use them in order to compare your results with your friends, because region-based leaderboard support is included. Not only that, but friends list comparisons are also available to those who wish to access them.
What players will want to share most often is their Daily Training score, which happens to be based on four standard exercises representing four different brain functions: language, observation, arithmetic and logic. As the core mode found within Smart As… this routine exercise prompts players to return regularly in order to improve their percentile scores. By doing so, the hope is that their mental efficiency will improve thanks to fun-filled brain stimulation, which is a very possible benefit.
Although they’re not flashy, the Daily Training exercises are effective and interesting. The list includes missing letter quizzes, mathematical questions, a front and rear tapping challenge, plus as a scenario in which the user must connect coloured totems by drawing lines. There’s nothing there that your average teenager will run out to the store for, but that’s where parents, grandparents and teachers come in. The fact is that what’s presented here is fun and helpful, and there’s no downside to spending ten minutes with it each day. The game doesn’t ask for more than that, which is certainly nice, and attempts are timed and graded, prompting the user to keep trying for higher scores.
Complementing the above-mentioned brain games, which utilize the touch screen for writing and tapping, along with the rear touchpad for tapping when prompted, is a diverse Free Play mode. Through regular use of the Daily Training scenario, players can unlock new touch and AR-based mini-games within this short-burst arcade, giving them another reason to come back on a regular basis. The games themselves are quite fun, though it must be said that it will take you a decent amount of time to unlock them all. That’s especially true considering that each one has different difficulty levels to unlock and complete. For those reasons, one cannot simply jump in and play everything within one night or even over a span of a few days.
One great example of the Free Play mode’s repertoire is a mathematical quiz wherein two sets of numbers are shown. In-between them, three tiny touch panels show the signs for greater than, less than and equal to. You surely get where this is going, as to succeed one must properly select which symbol represents the relationship between the two listed numbers. When you’re trying to do that quickly, mistakes are bound to happen, and trying to complete the task efficiently and quickly becomes addicting. Much like that one, the other games I played were also quite enjoyable, although there was one tilt-based block challenge which ended up being more frustrating than fun, due to its finicky design.
Although Smart As… doesn’t include a true multiplayer component, it does promote friendly competition through Near and location challenges. Whenever players get three stars in a certain mode, they can show off to their friends by posting taunt-based challenges, which end up coinciding with the game’s region-specific trials. What’s neat is that, by asking the user to submit his or her home city, gender, birthday and superior hand, the game can show tailored status updates. An example of one is, “You’re in the top 40%,” while another is, “You happen to be smarter than the majority of the other twenty-somethings.” It’s a neat way to create and maintain both interest and immersion.
Like its simplistic and short burst brain testers, Smart As… isn’t flashy when it comes to presentation. Utilizing a sterile and sharp-looking visual style, it’s easy on the eyes and evokes relaxation, not to mention attention. Quirky narration from John Cleese, as well as a bright colour palette, complement that design. On top of those facets, there’s not much more to say about the presentation side of things, other than the fact its unique music and seamless sound effects also add to the experience, as opposed to taking away from it.
Even though it has released to little buzz, Smart As… is a winner. It’s an intelligently designed, colourful and enjoyable learning tool that intellectuals, parents, teachers and students will find compelling. The way it makes learning fun is a great and memorable asset, making it a must-buy for interested, PS Vita-owning parties.
This review is based on a PS Vita copy of the game that was provided to us.
Even though it has released to little buzz, Smart As... is a winner. It's an intelligently designed, colourful and enjoyable learning tool that intellectuals, parents, teachers and students will find compelling.