capsule review

Big Bang Brain Games

At a Glance
  • Freeverse Software Big Bang Brain Games

    Macworld Rating

One of the biggest hits of the Nintendo DS handheld gaming system is Brain Age, a game that purports to keep your brain in shape by putting you through a series of mental tests—math problems, drawing pictures, Sudoku puzzles and more. A similar concept pervades Big Bang Brain Games from Freeverse Software, a collection of beautifully realized puzzle games for Mac OS X.

Like Big Bang Board Games before it, Big Bang Brain Games comprises several different titles in one—in this case, Echo, Fallacy, NovaSweeper, Reaction, Remembrance, and Sudoku. They’re all gorgeously rendered with 3-D graphics, feature Freeverse’s trademark irreverent wit and humor, and tie together quite well. They also integrate with .Mac, so you can show off your puzzle-solving skill to friends and family.

Each game in the series incorporates a roughly Greco-Roman milieu; you’ll find as your hosts characters like Sol, Luna and Wisdom. And while variations on these games have existed on computers for almost as long as there have been computers, Freeverse has done its best to keep them up to date and eye-catching, using a veritable visual feast of 3-D graphics and stunning particle effects (thanks to the use of the Unity game engine that powers these individual games). The games are a bit light on soundtrack, but there are enough sound effects and dialogue to keep your ears engaged, as well.

Echo is a call-and-response memory game—you watch Spheres (planets on marble columns) light up, sound off and occasionally move around, and then you try to repeat the patterns you see. (This is a game I’ve been playing with computers in one form or another since I got Milton Bradley’s Simon game for Christmas when I was eight.) Sudoku—the hugely popular numerical variation on crossword puzzles, where you have to set non-repeating sequences of numbers into rows and columns—also gets the Big Bang Brain Games treatment.

NovaSweeper is Freeverse’s homage to that most basic game that will be instantly familiar to every Windows users—Minesweeper—while Remembrance is an updated variation on Concentration, in which you see the placement of cards, which are turned over and have to be picked up in identical pairs.

All of these I’ve described so far are pretty much straightforward, although very stylish, homages to countless games that have come before them, and if you’re familiar with puzzle games, you may be put off by the relative lack of novelty here, although more than 50,000 puzzles in Sudoku are sure to keep even the most voracious number nerds busy for a bit.

Gone Fission Reaction has you busting molecules apart in as few moves as possible for the lowest—and therefore, best—score.

Reaction is my favorite offering in this collection, and it’s relatively new, at least to me. In this game, you’re presented with a grid containing molecules of varying sizes. Your goal is to pop them all in the fewest number of clicks. It’s a bit like a game of marbles played on a chess board, complete with reflecting pieces, warp holes, and more. It’s enormously rewarding when you click one and create a chain reaction that will clear the entire board (plus, you get a Hole in One award).

A really unique entry into the Big Bang Brain Games catalog is Fallacy. Fallacy is a multiple-choice game that tests your knowledge of logical fallacies—fodder for countless debates and arguments on the Internet over the years. I know this has been a pet project of one of Freeverse’s founders for years, so I’m happy to see it done, and done well.

These disparate games, which all appear in a single folder but exist as separate applications, do well to talk with one another. Individually, they’ll track your progress—games you’ve won, answers you’ve gotten correct and so forth—creating a percentage tally that shows you your overall “brain usage.” The better you do, the higher the number, so you have an excuse to go back and replay games over and over again.

What’s more, if you have a .Mac account, Big Bang Brain Games features a one-click system for uploading a new Web page to your .Mac homepage that shows how well you’ve done.

Despite the richness of graphics and special effects present here, Big Bang Brain Games runs on a wide variety of systems—it’s a Universal Binary, so it works natively on Intel Macs, operates just fine with the relatively limited graphics capabilities of Mac minis and MacBooks, and only requires a 600MHz or faster processor.

On their own, each one of these games would easily merit a $10, $15 or $20 shareware registration fee, so it’s a real bargain to get all six for $30.

The bottom line

Big Bang Brain Games might lack a bit of novelty for experienced puzzle gamers, but it’s a gorgeous collection you can try out for yourself at no cost via a free demo.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Brain usage charts
    • Beautiful effects
    • Easy system requirements
    • Fallacy and Reaction offer unique gameplay
    • .Mac web page integration

    Cons

    • Lack of novelty in many games
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