The Amazing Brain Train from Grubby Games

Brain training comes to Linux with The Amazing Brain Train from Grubby Games.

Back in issue #164 of Linux Journal I reviewed a trio of Linux-compatible games from Grubby Games. Well, the developers have recently added a new game to their lineup called The Amazing Brain Train. This game follows in the footsteps of other recent "brain training" games that have appeared on console and handheld game systems over the past couple of years.

Like all of Grubby Games' offerings, The Amazing Brain Train is available for the Linux, Windows, and Macintosh operating systems. When purchasing the game, their online store will attempt to detect which OS you are using and offer it up as a sugestion as the version you probably want to buy, but you are still given the option to purchase whichever OS version you would like.

If you want to try out the game before purchasing, there is a time-limited demo version that you can download. You won't get very far before the time limit kicks in, but you will be able to play a good selection of the mini-games. Even better, if you decide to purchase, your scores and progress will be picked up by the full version, so you don't have to worry about losing the progress you've made in Quest mode and having to do things all over again.

Shortly after purchasing the game, I received an email with a special download link to a 27MB tar.gz file. Once untarred I had a folder called The_Amazing_Brain_Train. I chose to put the folder in my /usr/share/games folder along with my other games, but in reality, it could have been placed anywhere. I then created a launcher for the program to make it easy for my kids (and myself) to launch it.

A simple Gnome launcher.

A simple Gnome launcher.

One nice addition to The Amazing Brain Train that is lacking in other games from Grubby Games is the inclusion of a nice icon in .png format. It's not a big deal, but it makes the launcher look a lot nicer.

The program that you actually run to launch the game is called run.cmd. This is a simple shell script that performs some library checking and then actually launches the game.

The Amazing Brain Train.

The Amazing Brain Train.

Like the rest of the games from Grubby, The Amazing Brain Train is very polished. The visual style is consistent (and meshes nicely with the previous games from Grubby) and the animations are charming. The sound is also top notch with the music and sound effects matching the action on the screen perfectly.

The game ran without a hitch on my two test boxes: one laptop with a Pentium M 1.6 processor running Ubuntu 7.10, and the other with an AMD Athlon XP 2500+ and Ubuntu 8.04. The system requirements state that the game will run on a computer with at least a 500 Mhz processor and 256MB of RAM, and based on the excellent performance I saw, I'm inclined to believe them.

I probably should admit that I did have one issue with sound output on my AMD box, but that turned out to be the fault of my sound card and not the game. Once the sound card was configured properly, sound in the game worked perfectly.

The game defaults to running in full-screen mode. This, along with several other options, can be changed on the Settings screen.

The Settings screen.

The Settings screen.

You can also change the controls on a per-mini-game basis, which can really help as you try for that elusive high score when in "Quest" or "Test" mode where speed and accuracy are key.

As far as the mini-games go, The Amazing Brain Train contains 15 different games that are organized into five categories: Search, Planning, Spatial, Memory, and Numbers.

Overall, I found the games to be fun to play, and levels are somewhat randomized so they never play exactly the same way twice. This allows them to stand up fairly well to repeated playings. There are a couple that I find more tedious than the others, but that is due more to personal preference than to the mini-game itself being faulty.

That's not to say that there weren't any faults. No game is perfect. Even slick commercial ones like The Amazing Brain Train. For one, I found the quest mode to be too tedious. Quest mode takes place on a map that contains a winding railroad track. At first, only the outer loop is completed. The goal is to unlock the inner parts of the track so that you can reach all of the animals. Each animal has various quests that you can complete for them. For the most part these involve fetching one or more items from other animals around the track. Successfully completing a quest will either unlock a locked mini-game or allow you to add another track segment.

Quest Mode

Quest Mode

The tedium comes in because almost invariably the item you have to fetch is all the way on the opposite side of the track. In order to power your train to get to where you need to go you need to complete mini-games to give your train "fuel". The better you do on a mini-game, the farther you go. I was fine with this for the first few quests, but as I kept going, it became more of a chore than a pleasure. My advice is to work on quest mode in small chunks. For me this meant never completing more than one or two quests in a single sitting.

Thankfully there are two other modes besides Quest Mode. Test mode gives you a 5 mini-game "test", after which you are given a grade of "A", "B", "C", "D", or "F". While playing I never saw a score below a "B-" so as a test, I deliberately played so that I received a score of 0 for each mini-game and I found that while the game never lets your score fall below zero, it is possible to receive an "F", but I had to work at it.

After completing Quiz mode you are given a grade.

After completing Quiz mode you are given a grade.

One nice feature of both the Quest and Test modes is that you can submit your high scores to a global scoreboard. Getting on to the upper levels of the all-time high score list looks to be pretty hard (I was usually somewhere in the mid 300's in placement), but there is also a daily high score list that I was able to break into the top ten on with some of my better (well, luckier) scores.

The Cosmic Cube spatial mini-game.

The "Cosmic Cube" spatial mini-game.

The final gameplay mode is Test. This lets you play any of the mini-games you have unlocked with or without the normal time limit. During Quest and Test modes, each mini-game has a fixed time limit, so the Test mode is nice if you want to play a particular mini-game at a more relaxed pace. For my oldest daughter, this is her preferred mode.

The controls for each mini-game generally work very well. For many of them, you use the mouse to select the correct response to a question. There are a couple where you use the arrow keys to guide an animal in the appropriate direction. The only game where the controls did not work very well for me was the Mouse Maze mini-game. In this game, you need to guide a mouse through a maze to some cheese and you can use either the mouse or the arrow keys on your keyboard to do this. The problem is that both control modes are not precise enough to avoid mistakes. A few mistakes are fine when you have unlimited time, but when you are trying to get through a maze and you only have 5 seconds left on the clock, the last thing you want is to overshoot the correct path because of less-than-accurate controls.

The Mouse Maze mini-game.

The "Mouse Maze" mini-game.

The decision of whether or not The Amazing Brain Train is a good buy rests with how much you enjoy casual, brain teaser games. I won't go so far as to say that "brain training"-type games will make you smarter, but I do find them fun when taken in small doses. For me, the game is well worth the $20 it costs.

As far as the opinion of my kids goes: my 9-year-old thought most of the mini-games were fun, my younger children . . . not so much. Younger children will especially have trouble with the mini-games that require math skills.

In the end, I think this is a worthy entry into the "Brain Training" category of computer games, regardless of platform. If you like other games in this category, you'll like this one. And speaking of platforms, it's nice to see a commercial game company committed to releasing Linux versions of all of their games.

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