We're not sure how everyone else feels, but if we were ever put on the spot, we'd probably class ourselves as being at least fairly clever. We did pretty well in our GCSEs, (and slightly less well in our A Levels) but otherwise, we're a fairly intelligent bunch. But despite our solid academic background, we've never really felt the need to try and join Mensa. The oldest high IQ society in the world (named after the latin for "table", fact fans) the whole idea of Mensa for some reason held little appeal - if only because we didn't fancy getting sucked into existential debates by a group of people who seemed to have nothing better to do with their lives than telling everyone how much cleverer they were. But then Mensa Academy showed up on our doorstep, and all of that changed. With a test sitting in front of us, just begging us to take it, we couldn't resist any longer. Were we Mensa material, or were we destined for the intellectual scrap heap?
Mensa Academy, out now on the 3DS and Wii, is probably best described as Brain Training to the extreme. Packed full of mensa-level questions, the game is about as challenging as a brain training style game can possibly be, pushing your maths, English, and logic skills to the limit. Taking things that little bit further than other games, in the maths puzzles here, rather than basic addition and subtractions, you'll be simplifying fractions, working out complex equations with brackets, and figuring out multiples - all of which are a lot harder than they sound when you find yourselves up against a time limit. If you want to complete all the levels here, you really will have to be pretty smart - or at least be willing to put in the practice to get there.
The majority of your time with Mensa Academy will be spent playing through the game's 100 or so challenges, taking on a variety of minigames of ever increasing difficulty, with the hope of beating yourself into shape to take the official Mensa test. Divided into five sections, you'll be taking on games under the headings of Language, Numeracy, Logic, Visual, and Memory, with a decent twenty challenges awaiting you in each section. Each challenge is made up of a mix of the available themed minigames, each against a time limit, which start off fairly straightforward, to give you chance to figure out exactly what it is you're meant to be doing, and start to seeing the patterns, before becoming incredibly, incredibly hard - which is no less than you'd expect from a game bearing the Mensa branding.
Language, as you may expect, is all about words, and how you use them. One of the first games you'll play, Alphabet Action, has you simply putting four words in alphabetical order - which is fairly straightforward to begin with, but quickly gets a lot harder when you end up with several words that have the first two or three letters all the same. Other challenges include "Mixed up", which gives you four groups of letters that you've got to unscramble to form a word, while Odd One Out asks you to spot the word which doesn't belong with the group - as an example, out of "Whisk, Basil, Colander and Grater", which is the odd one out? As you may expect, this is on the easiest difficulty - it gets a lot harder form there on in.
Numeracy, meanwhile, is all about maths - but things here go a lot further than in other, similar games. Even the basic "Sums" mode, which starts off by asking you to figure out simple equations (17-5 = ?), quickly turns into much more of a challenge asking things like 6 + 7 = 20 - ?, (5+5) x 7 = ?, and an early stinker, (7 + 9) x (13 - 6) = ?. How hot is your mental 16 times table (or your seven times table up to 16?)? The easiest way we found of doing it was doing 7 x 10 = 70, then 7 x 6 = 42 and adding them together, but even then, when you're up against a time limit, it can be pretty challenging. Other modes ask you to work out which fraction is closest to, say, a fifth, or poke each of the targets that's a multiple of 15. By far the most fiendish of these games, however, is the "Number Relations", which, even on its medium difficulty level is tricky enough. Giving you a set of three 2 x 2 squares, it's up to you to spot the pattern between the numbers in each square, and fill in the missing number in the last square. Without any hints, this can be rather hard to do, as you could be doing anything with any combination of the numbers - adding two and taking one off, multiplying one by another and dividing by the third, and so on - and spotting the right pattern takes a lot of practice. Oh, and you only have a few seconds to spot it in.
Logic, meanwhile, mostly seems to revolve around spotting patterns and sequences, whether in terms of colours or shapes. Spotting the missing section from a chain of coloured shapes, working out the missing value in a series of numbers (just like you did at school), or figuring out which word is "least like" another is the order of the day here - although several of the games could easily have been slotted into the literacy or numeracy categories.
The Visual minigames are even more of a mixed bunch - with only three games to choose from here, Jungle Japes, Line Up, and Hare and Tortoise, there's less variety, and arguably less of a challenge. Jungle Japes asks you to poke a series of tiki masks in the indicated order, while Line Up asks you to spot a person in a line-up wearing a selection of items you're asked to look out for - like rubber rings, flippers, and trunks. Hare and Tortoise, meanwhile, is probably the worst game on here, simply because it's so hit and miss. You're presented with a race mid-way between a tortoise and a hare, and you're asked who's going to win. Giving you all of a split second to try and judge their speeds relative to one another, it's not a very good game, and often feels like it comes down more to luck than logic.
Finally, there's the Memory category, which seems a lot like the Visual, and arguably could have been rolled into one. The first game, Face Facts shows you a mock up of a face for a few seconds, and then asks you to choose from various bits to recreate the face (picking the right hair, eyes, nose, and mouth), Cacophony plays a sequence of sound clips from various instruments, and then asks you to play it back (a bit like Simon Says, luckily showing handy icons for each of the instruments, so you don't have to have the sound on to play it on your 3DS), while Zoo Capers asks you to follow a line-up of jungle animals as they trot along the screen, and then answer questions (How many Pandas were there? Which animal came first?)
When you've played through each of the category-themed challenges, or think you're getting good enough, you can decide to put your skills to the test, and try for a medal in the oddly named "Coach" mode. Letting you go for a bronze, silver, or gold medal, these medals pit you against a single minigame of choice, and ask you to get 10 questions in a row right. And that's a lot easier said than done - especially when you're going for Gold.
As an example of what we're talking about, on the Gold difficulty "Sums", our first question was (14 + 9) x ? = 299. Simple enough, right(!?) 23 x what = 299? The answer's 13, but similar leaps can be found on every category. On "Opposites", things start out easy enough, asking you to spot "Push" and "Pull". On Silver, things get a little bit more difficult, asking you to spot "Proven" and "Untested" (instead of, say, "unproven"), while on Gold, you're asked to tie together "theic" and "agnostic", or "neophyte" and "veteran". Similarly, on Missing Letters, a mode which misses two letters out of words at random intervals, and asks you to find the two letters that fit, things are straightforward enough on Bronze, but playing on Gold, the game starts throwing increasingly obscure words at you - we were asked to spot "Gluhwein", "Greywacke", and "Saltimbocka" - and we still have no idea what the middle one is.
When you think you've had enough training, though, it's time to head over to the test mode, which lets you sit a Mensa level test for real. Happily, the questions you'll get asked are all pretty much based on the minigames you've been playing in the other modes, so if you've played enough, you should at least stand a chance - although it is still rather tricky. Giving you 15 minutes to polish off 30 questions, you'll have to blaze through if you want to stand a chance of measuring a decent IQ - and while we messed up the first test (we left our game for a while, then came back to realise we hadn't paused it, and ran out of time), on our second attempt, we ended up with an IQ of 161... We probably still won't attempt to join Mensa, though.
Across the Wii and the 3DS, the game is pretty much identical, although the Wii version does come packing a few extra features in the form of the obligatory multiplayer modes. Letting you take on your friends and family in one of two modes - Brain Race, and Brain Fighter, both variations on a theme which support up to four players, the modes see you racing to answer questions before your opponents - either to push ahead of them in a race, or to collect a power up, which you can use to attack your opponent with - attack them a certain number of times, and they'll lose. It's nothing fancy, and unless you're playing on a massive TV, it can be a little bit awkward to choose the right option, but it's at least a nice thought.
While it may at times feel slightly unfair, there's no denying Mensa Academy succeeds in what it set out to achieve - it'll push you more than any other brain training game out there, and what's more, it's actually kind of fun doing it. If you're looking to keep your mental maths skills sharp, your logic lethal, or just fancy putting your mind to the test, this is well worth picking up.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii