Smart As… Review
Game: Smart As…
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Climax Studios
Available On: PlayStation Vita only
“Congratulations!” says the instantly-recognisable voice of John Cleese. “Your brain will soon be in better condition than a butcher’s dog!”
I’m not sure precisely how fit your average butcher’s pet is these days, but I can only assume it’s a compliment because I just upped my brain score (the percentage of squishy grey matter I regularly fire neurons through) to 78%. Woohoo! I am smarter than yesterday, and it’s all thanks to giving my brain a rigorous ten minute workout.
It’s not an original premise, given that Nintendo’s Brain Training created the template several years ago, but Smart As does everything Brain Training does with added bells and whistles. For a start, the simple visuals are gorgeous. Powered by the Unreal Engine, the graphics boil down to stark white backgrounds and an assortment of bright, cartoonish numbers, letters and objects. Sounds tedious perhaps, but little flourishes found in everything Smart As does add a quaint little charm to even the simplest of your actions.
There are four types of challenge to tackle: Language, Logic, Arithmetic and Observation, and each category has 5 tasks ranging from guessing the missing digit in an equation to some excellent memory and logic games. Oddly, you can’t play a challenge freely until you’ve unlocked it by completing the Daily Challenge (a collection of one of each game type that scores your brain power based on a mean percentage). What this means in layman’s terms is that it will be twenty whole days until you can play anything you want whenever you want to. It’s hugely restrictive and utterly unnecessary as an incentive to play daily; such is the likeability of each challenge, you’ll want to play an assortment every day anyway.
The brilliance of Smart As is the way it interacts with you as an individual, whether it’s remembering the last game you struggled with or noting how long it’s been since you played. It’s all illusion, obviously, but it does give you a sense that Smart As has been designed for you.
The way it utilises all the little tricks the Vita has up its sleek black sleeves is also impressive. Games will use everything from the gyroscope to the rear touchpad, and even those AR cards that you haven’t touched since Fireworks got boring (that is, roughly two days after you first unpacked your Vita). The simplicity is complimented by the game’s ability to read your input, picking up on the letters and numbers you’re writing on the screen with your finger as well as if you were using a stylus. It’s both responsive and intuitive; great qualities when so many of the challenges are time-sensitive.
No game these days is complete without some kind of social element, so not only can you post your latest brain score directly to Facebook and Twitter, but you can also use Near to access the Smart As World, wherein you can broadcast your brain power and challenge others to pit their genius against your own. You can even see who currently holds the highest score and how stupid you are in comparison. It doesn’t feel superfluous, but at the same time it isn’t at all compulsory and if you want to keep to yourself, you won’t feel penalised or short-changed.
The sound direction is hardly complex, mixing cartoony effects with friendly narration from the aforementioned legend that is John Cleese, whose constant commentary feels companion-like and friendly even when it’s being snarky about something silly you did. In fact, I almost feel at times that I wanted it to be more cutting. Few people do scathing sarcasm as well as Basil Fawlty, after all. Still, Smart As gets the tone just right, always keeping it light-hearted and on the right side of patronising.
VERDICT: Smart As may not have the largest selection of challenges, but that’s nothing that won’t be remedied with inevitable DLC packs, and besides, the games on offer are all, without exception, great fun. The narration is top-notch, and graphically its just so inviting that you can’t help but want a go when you see it in action.
Aside from the restrictive unlocking method and the relatively small selection of games, Smart As is a brilliant brain trainer and a hugely charismatic game. Future DLC will no doubt expand its repertoire, and in the meantime it remains a perfect example of the kind of gaming-on-the-go software for which Sony desperately want the Vita to be known. Fun, accessible and well-crafted, Smart As is well worth your time – and who knows, you might even learn something.