I had a review for Smart As about 95% complete on Sunday afternoon as Hurricane Sandy took a hard left towards New Jersey leaving us on the shoreline in Connecticut on the windy side of the storm. I had to add a few pictures, correct a few grammatical errors and then figure out how to have the website post it at exactly 3AM on Tuesday morning when the embargo was lifted and we were sure to have long since lost power. It was a great plan except for one small problem… I enacted it about 15 minutes too late and lost power as I was finishing this final bit.
The reason I’m telling you isn’t only for sympathy (FIVE DAYS WITHOUT POWER AND INTERNET!) but because it helped me enjoy Smart As in a completely different light and while it didn’t change what my final score was I feel like I can better illustrate what the game does well and where it comes up short. So much like many of the trees in my town, the old review is destroyed and I’m going to start over with the knowledge of a post-hurricane boredom survivor.
Smart As is the newest, shiniest and bestiest (is that a word? Cleese?) ‘brain training’ game in a portable world that has quite a few of them. I’ve cut my teeth on Brain Age. I’ve mashed wits with Brain Challenge. I’ve spent $.99 at least 5 times (quick! quick! $4.95 in total!!!) on various iOS variations. So when Smart As was announced I knew I wanted it and I wanted to know why it was $30.
The answer is pretty clear within minutes of starting it up. You are greeted with a logo for the Unreal Engine, something even my wife commented on as being ‘weird’, and then once you start the game proper John Cleese is narrating to you while you play rather clever (and abundant) brain training games that have never, ever looked so good. The games use all of the Vita’s features from touch (including writing numbers or letters with your fingers) back touch (to really melt your brain during one particularly daunting Observation game) and even tilt and the camera for A.R.
The more gimmicky games tend not to come up in the daily training exercise which is the meat and potatoes of the Smart As experience. Each day you do 4 exercises, one from each section of the exquisitely modeled brain (all hail the Unreal engine’s finest creation!) and you get a score which is a percentage out of 100. The game’s rather robust save file and online ranking system means that your score doesn’t just simply exist in a vacuum. It goes online for everyone to see, including people who want to break down the rankings by country, by age group or even by if you prefer dance music or rock music. There are friend rankings of course which is both a blessing and a curse. See, to me, the magic of brain training games is that make you feel smart and they tell you it over and over. Smart As is brilliant at this. It asks you a series of questions and by splitting the player base off into so many different subgroups there *HAS* to be one that you are at least in the top half of. So a loading screen may say “You are smarter than most people who prefer sneakers to dress shoes” and in your mind you pump your fist and go “that’s right bitches, I’m a goddamn genius!”
The problem with your friends list leaderboard is it may just so happen that you are the dumbest friend and that’s no fun. So far that isn’t the case for me but I know my friends and I know I’m screwed so I’m going to need the reinforcement from the game that I’m smarter than people who take a bath while holding a toaster. One aspect of the game that I didn’t even take into consideration until I was stuck in my house with no power for days was local multiplayer. While the game doesn’t specifically have a mode for local MP (which is an odd exclusion but easily rectified just by playing a game and remembering your score and passing it) it is great fun to play with, say, your wife. She and I were laughing hysterically whenever either of us had a brain fart on some seemingly easy logic puzzle. We gloated when we won, we frowned when we lost. It really was great. And while I won most of the time because my wife is dumb (her words) and I’m a goddamn genius (my words) we still had a great time.
And of course my wife isn’t dumb, the game really is just about memorizing how each game is played and then executing it quic……. bah baahhhh nooo! SHUT UP PETE! No, I won because I’m smart. The game told me I’m smart because I’m smart! Don’t look any deeper into this!
So what we end up here is a top of the line brain training game with extremely slick and polished presentation, narration from John Cleese that is both funny and pretty mesmerizing in how it will recall things you did days earlier and the most robust online interface a game like this could ever dream of having. Much like the Vita itself, this is a high-end product for a very specific consumer… and while some may scoff at the $30 price tag — those of us that love these types of games will know that we actually made out in this deal. I can see myself playing at least the daily exercise every single day for the next year or two (or three or four). Tell me you’re going to do that with your $60 copy of Darksiders 2.