Smart As is an interesting beast; it's not really a game, although - unlike, say, Art Academy - it does feature fairly typical game-like systems. It's got time limits and scores, and occasionally it's even fun - despite the fact that "fun" is clearly not the point.
Let's start at the beginning.
Smart As is a new PlayStation Vita game that takes aim squarely at the kind of edutainment niche currently occupied by the likes of the Brain Training series on Nintendo platforms. The idea, you see, is to participate in a series of mental challenges that are designed to give your brain a workout; a brain gym, if you like.
This is achieved by way of a series of minigames in which you must add together numbers, figure out what letter is missing from a word, plot a path for an AI-controlled character to follow - that sort of thing. The interface for most of them is largely touch-based, which - aside from the premise, that you'll either like or loathe - is about the only place the title stumbles.
Often you'll need to enter a number, or a letter, by writing it on a virtual whiteboard - with your finger. All too regularly, your input is misinterpreted and your input is registered incorrectly - a frustration, given everything is time based, and the result of a mistake is to look - quite literally - dumber than perhaps you are. A virtual keyboard, rote as that may be, surely would have worked better. Your technique will eventually adapt, however, significantly reducing the error rate as it does.
Another minigame sees you spinning a wheel to select letters in order to make a word; a cool premise but again, given everything is time-based, it's a frustratingly slow way to input your answer. Everything is relative, of course, but it still feels slow, which hampers your enjoyment of an otherwise fun little puzzle.
Unlocking games can be a challenge, as to get access to new stuff you'll need to absolutely blitz the already accessible ones. Depending on the structure of your brain, this can be nigh-on impossible; I, for example, seem to have issues with observation-based challenges, so that part of the minigame section is rather spartan compared to arithmetic and language.
The guts of the game is in the daily workout; a set of randomly selected puzzles in which your brain is assessed and your progress compared over time. Whether it actually improves your brain, or simply trains you in the mechanics of the exercises themselves, is something I'm not qualified to assess. What I can tell you is that, having used it every day for a week or so, not only do I feel smarter, but I actually had fun trying to improve my results every day.
The challenges, simple as they may be (such as the one in which you simply need to touch the front or back of the Vita, as you're told to on the screen), are generally compelling and addictive. It's unlikely you'll sit and play them for hours, but at the same time, you'll probably look forward to your five minute daily dose.
It has tight social integration, too, with direct hooks into both Twitter and Facebook, as well as leaderboard support and features that leverage the Vita's NEAR functionality. The purpose of this stuff is to let you compete with your pals (and strangers) to see who's the smartest; whether you actually want to do that, of course, is up to you. Regardless, if you've got a braggy pal who owns a Vita, gird your loins for a wave of nerdy status updates in the near future.
The presentation is excellent; powered by Unreal Engine, the visual aesthetic is minimalistic and cohesive. The camera zooms around and the puzzles all feel part of the world in which they're set, with the basic interface well integrated into the visual package. The fact that the entire experience is narrated by the excellent - and very funny - John Cleese is just the super tasty icing on a very nice presentation cake.
If you're looking for a mental gym, Smart As is a good option. It's fun, well put together, and you'll look forward to your daily workout. Frustrations aside, it's well worth a look, even if it's priced a little on the high side at around $46 on PSN / $55 at retail.