'Smart As' challenges your brain and measures its power against others

Smart As is a "next-gen brain-training" game exclusively for the PlayStation Vita, but its social hooks are its smartest element.

Intelligent people enjoy learning just how smart they are — or so I hear.

Smart As plays upon that competitive desire and makes it the heart of its "next-gen brain-training" experience, said Nicolo Accordino, assistant producer at Sony Santa Monica, during a recent PlayStation press event. It offers 20 challenging minigames — five each in the categories of Logic, Arithmetic, Language, and Observation — plus one augmented-reality game per category. The aesthetic is bright, colorful, and inviting; a narrator, whose voice actor is yet to be announced, lends the proceedings a playful, "cheeky" tone in the vein of Buzz! or You Don't Know Jack (just consider the pun in the title).

But Smart As is also serious business, pitting you against your friends, city, country, region, and the world in a never-ending battle of wits. "You're finding out who you're as smart as," said Accordino, and you may not like what you discover.

The minigames in Smart As are all built to demonstrate the Vita's variety of hardware features; you won't often be using the buttons or analog sticks. All the games test your speed: a lower time means a better score. Each one gets exponentially harder through four difficulty levels from easy to "genius," and since it's natural to be better at some games than others, I found myself having a little trouble even on easy in some cases.

"Number Pinch" is an Arithmetic exercise that plays out on the touchscreen. It presents you with a number, and then gives you four numbers in bubbles on the playing field; you have to pinch together the two numbers that, when added together, equal the first number. The Language game "Odd Word Out" offers up four words, and asks you to determine (by tapping) which one isn't a synonym of the other three. "Cube Mania," a Logic minigame, tasks you with rotating panels to trace a path on the surface of some cubes. And the Observation exercise "Turbo Tap" is a Stroop test, with the variables being the front touchscreen and rear touch panel.

None of those might sound too tough, but they become devilishly difficult on "genius." You'll have multiple sets of operations to complete in "Number Pinch"; "Odd Word Out" becomes an SAT prep exercise, with words like "sagacious"; the block and path setups in "Cube Mania" get unbelievably complex; and "Turbo Tap" requires you to take positions into account. There's a wide range of challenge in Smart As — players of all ages and IQs will find something to tease their brains.

Smart As takes those fun mini-games and infuses them with layers upon layers of social, connected elements. At the center is a daily regimen: four games (one per area) that will take 10 to 15 minutes to complete. From there, the game calculates a "Brain Power" percentage that is an average of your Arithmetic, Language, Observation, and Logic scores. "It's a great way to jump in and play for a little bit every day," said Accordino. Once you've completed the daily slate of games, you need to wait until the next day for another opportunity to improve your score. The Brain Power mark gets sent to Smart As' leaderboards, and you must keep playing to maintain your position — inactive scores drop in the rankings over time, so there are separate active and all-time leaderboards.

The game also tracks your Brain Power, giving you a graph of your progress over time, although Accordino cautioned that "we're not making any scientific claims" that Smart As will improve your IQ or anything. The Brain Power regimen is tied to a daily poll question, which provides additional social competition. First, you answer the question — something like, "Do you go to bed before or after 11 p.m.?" After you submit your Brain Power score, Smart As provides a chart comparing the relative intelligence of the two groups across the world: say, "People who go to bed after 11 p.m. are smarter than those who go to bed before 11 p.m." Smart As is filled with these kinds of slick social hooks, and of course, it will also let you boast about your prowess on Twitter and Facebook.

Smart As asks you to set a home city — it currently offers over 500 in the United States alone — and then gives you more challenges in a mode called Street Smart. The developers will constantly update the game with a specific challenge for each city with three games: easy, medium, and hard. It's GPS-restricted, so you can only complete a Street Smart game when you're physically within the city in question. The idea, said Accordino, is that players will take their Vita with them on the road and do a challenge in each city along the way, ending up with a "passport" of Street Smart exercises marking the progress of their trip.

Another Vita feature is its location-based Near app, and Smart As also takes advantage of that functionality. Players can create Near challenges — one game at a particular difficulty — and leave them in a location, waiting for other Smart As users to drop by and try to complete them. Any data that Smart As sends or receives, whether it's scores for a leaderboard or Near challenges, is small enough to be transferred over a 3G connection. That limits the amount of time players will spend waiting for data to upload and download, which increases the likelihood that they'll spend more time actually playing the game.

Smart As is designed from top to bottom to "foster a sense of community and competition," Accordino told me. That competition can be as friendly or as intense as you want. If you don't feel the need to bother with the daily challenge, you can jump in and check out any of the minigames, competing with yourself alone to improve your intellect over time. Or you can constantly try to maintain a position atop the global leaderboard, making a name for yourself as the smartest Vita owner in the world.

Smart As is slated for release exclusively on PlayStation Vita this fall.

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