Smart As review for PS Vita

Platform: PlayStation Vita
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: XDev Europe
Medium: Vita Card/Digital
Players: 1
Online: Leaderboards/Social

If you think about it, Smart As exists in a really odd place. On one hand, it’s unquestionably a niche title that, like the Brain Age series on the Nintendo DS, appeals mainly to a very specific group of gamers — if, that is, those people would even want to be called “gamers”. At the same time, however, it’s a niche that — again, like the Brain Age series on the DS — has the potential to be absolutely enormous, drawing in people who may not even normally buy video games.

Or, to put it more succinctly: you have to figure that somewhere along the line, Sony looked at sales figures for the PlayStation Vita, looked at how many copies the two Brain Age games have sold (32 million and counting), and figured, “Hey, it’s worth a shot!”

That said, what matters isn’t how (hypothetically) mercenary Smart As’ birth was. What matters is whether it’s a fun, engaging game. And on that front, it’s a success.

Of course, your enjoyment of the game will depend entirely on whether you’re a fan of puzzles, math and word games. And not just a casual fan, either. While the “Easy” challenges in this game are, for the most part, just that, as soon as you start making things a little harder, the difficulty levels ramp up pretty quickly. I mean, I like to think I have a decent vocabulary, but asking me to spell words like “ginglymus”, “hyalithe” and “yataghan” is just unfair, particularly when you factor in the voice reading them out, which has just enough of an English accent that it’s occasionally impossible to discern what you’re being asked to spell. Similarly, I’m a big fan of being able to do math in my head, but anyone who can do multiplication and division of three-digit numbers at lightning speeds probably has better things to do than be playing on a Vita. Then again, Smart As wouldn’t be much fun if it didn’t offer players a challenge, so it’s easy to understand why tasks verge on impossible when you get to “Genius”.

Less forgivable are the little things here and there that detract from an otherwise stellar experience. Like the aforementioned voiceover, for example. I get that the game was developed by XDev Europe, which means that getting a British voice actor was probably easier than getting an American one. And no doubt it sounds classier, and it provides some nice consistency with the rest of the narration, which is provided by John Cleese. But the accent is just thick enough that it makes some words sound incomprehensible (or, at least, impossible to spell). On a broader level, you’ve got the issue that the game doesn’t pick up what you’re writing 100% of the time — no small thing when the clock is ticking down, and the game keeps insisting that the “J” or “R” you typed in is actually a “U” or a “K”. It doesn’t happen every time, and certainly not enough that the game truly suffers as a result, but it’s enough that it’s a constant, low-level annoyance.

On the whole, however, Smart As is a fun experience. John Cleese is, as you’d expect, an absolutely fantastic narrator. The graphics are surprisingly stunning, using a combination of the Unreal Engine and a primarily white color scheme to give the whole thing a clean, sleek look and feel. And, most importantly, the challenges are fun a lot more often than not. Whether all those things add up to give the PS Vita a Brain Age (and the associated sales figures) of its own will remain to be seen, but there’s no denying that Smart As is one of the handheld’s must-own titles.

Grade: B+