The original Dr Kawashima's Brain Training on Nintendo DS started a revolution back in the day: suddenly game developers realised they could tap into a brand new market of buyers eager to kickstart their cerebral centres, and a host of copycat titles emerged over the next few years. With Kinect ready-made for this same market, it's no surprise the Japanese doctor has returned - minus Nintendo - with a series of new brain-busting exercises in the form of Dr Kawashima's Body and Brain Exercises (known as Dr Kawashima's Body and Brain Connection in some countries.)
The original game made use of the Nintendo DS's touchscreen and microphone for inputs, but on Kinect the voice recognition has been done away with in favour of pure physical motion. There are five categories on offer – mathematics, reflexes, logic, physical and memory – containing four exercises each, with each exercise offering three difficulties. If this kind of multiplication problem causes you serious difficulty you'll be pleased to know the game starts out very easily, with only the Beginner-level problems unlocked at first.
You commence with a test to determine the agility of your grey matter, with the now-familiar brain age displayed at the end of three exercises picked at random. The idea of the game, as with many fitness titles, is to return every day to see the improvements in your mental acuity, rather than any physical fitness, and indeed the Achievements reflect this recommended daily routine.
Once the test is over the game recommends three activities based on your needs, though it's rarely ever explained how this is decided. If you perform well in the exercise you unlock a higher difficulty level to be accessed from the Custom Exercises menu later on, but the three recommended exercises always come with a preset difficulty based on your brain age.
Of the 20 exercises themselves, most are well thought-out: waving your arms, punching balloons and kicking footballs to solve maths problems brings a welcome injection of interest, and keeping Pac-Man away from those ghosts with just your hands will bring a smile to the face of many gamers. Some of the reflex-based stages will irritate due to some imprecise cursor controls that send your hand smashing through a red balloon when you really wanted it to burst the yellow one, although the use of two cursors in some levels can be most welcome. On the whole, it's a mixed bag, with very few real duffers.
That said, there's only so many variations on number puzzles you'll want to play, and the default control method seems to be semaphore: your arms become clock hands, direct traffic, point to numbers that equal 10 and, in one minigame, actually perform semaphore, but considering the game's potential for Brain Gym-like exercises it's disappointing. Although the higher difficulties introduce more problems to solve or reduce time limits, stretching your brain functions further than you might think, there's only so much you'll want to play on your own, particularly as the brain age test and recommended exercises will likely take 20 minutes maximum.
If you're playing on your own, you're recommended to pick up the game every day, but it's also intended as a party game for families, and it does a passable job of getting everyone involved in its game show-like presentation in which Kawashima presides over all in a red cushioned chair like a cerebral Bond villain. Up to four players can take part in the exercises, often with the game throwing in extra difficulties like obscuring parts of the screen, but compared to the other multiplayer titles on Kinect it fails to bring the party atmosphere that would bring the format to life; its pastel-coloured world often feels sterile and lacking personality, not a surprise considering its main characters are a Japanese neuroscientist and a cartoon lightbulb.
Dr Kawashima's Body and Brain Exercises isn't a bad attempt at bringing the brain game genre to Kinect: it's bright, engaging and will generate a great deal more thinking than most other titles on the sensor so far. There are some decent minigames hidden away in here, but the real question is: do you really want another Kinect minigame collection, even with its light-hearted take on cerebral improvement?