Game

Well meaning and challenging, but the novelty does wear off eventually

Do you remember Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training on the Nintendo DS? If you don’t, then either you’ve never heard of it, or you have and it obviously didn’t work for you. The game was billed as a series of numerical and verbal exercises which, if done regularly, aimed to improve brain functions, increasing your intellectual acuity and memory skills. Also, it was quite fun, and had some nice challenges plus loads of Sudoku puzzles.

A Life worth dying for works on a similar principle: its developer, for whatever reason, has an innate fear of dementia; the gradual but permanent loss of memory and cognitive powers. The basic idea of the app is to act as a memory workout, using a technique called the ‘n-back task’, in which you’re asked to remember verbal or visual cues over time.

Get a memory test wrong and poor Mutlu receives a shock

Get a memory test wrong and poor Mutlu receives a shock

The guy on the screen is the developer, Mutlu Isik, represented, metaphorically, as falling to his death. Your job is to unlock his memories by completing the memory challenges, revealing the fragments of his life.

To start with, you get a series of spoken words, and when one from two steps back is repeated, you tap the right side of the screen. This unlocks a memory fragment taken from the developer’s own experiences – at first these are just tiny snippets of audio, but soon you get short video clips.

Unlocking memories earns points, and once the meter is filled, you can move to the second level, which is the same routine only played out with blocks. When a square appears in the same position as one did two steps back, you tap the left side of the screen. By the third level you get both visual and auditory cues, which may be repeated individually or at the same time – in which case you tap both sides of the screen together.

The game gives you a quick demo of how to play

The game gives you a quick demo of how to play

And so it goes on… if you’re a multitasking cerebral genius, you’ll progress to levels with three and four steps back – or like us you’ll keep on getting it wrong and start losing points. Which means you just have to keep playing and hope that the app is actually enhancing your memory.

Painful memories

A Life worth dying for is undoubtedly a well-meaning and interesting concept, although we couldn’t possibly determine if it actually works or not in the short time we’ve spent with it. But we do know that once the initial novelty factor has worn off, it’s really not very interesting.

There are several problems, but mainly the lack of a sense of progression. Apart from the challenges getting harder – frustratingly so, if we’re honest – there’s not much here to keep you engaged. The task is also made tougher by the interruption of the clips, causing you to lose track of where you were. We also expected to piece together the memory fragments into longer vignettes, but so far all we’ve done is fill a yellow bar with points – and then see it dwindle as the challenges got tougher.

To remind you of the app's earnest purpose, each level is prefaced by the description of a medical condition to do with dementia

To remind you of the app’s earnest purpose, each level is prefaced by the description of a medical condition to do with dementia

A big part of the experience is whether you buy into the whole idea of seeing someone else’s memories. For us they just feel disconnected and slightly banal: a snatch of chatter, a birthday party, a plate of food, some dogs… they might be personal for Mutlu, but without any context, they’re fall fairly meaningless to the player.

It feels like there are two decent ideas vying for attention, here: one is a brain training-type app, designed specifically to augment your memory functions, much like the Nintendo title; the other is a more abstract game, based on piecing together personal memories. But for us the two aspects seem oddly welded together for no real benefit. You may enjoy the memory tests on offer, but we soon grew tired of its repetitive nature.

Here is a memory of a small  dog having a treat. It doesn't get more exciting than this...

Here is a memory of a small dog having a treat. It doesn’t get more exciting than this…

Price: $2.99 / £1.99
Size: 95.7 MB
Version: 1.0
Platform: iOS Universal
Developer: Mutlu Isik

App Store Download button

A Life worth dying for Review: Ambitious, but poorly executed idea
Well-meaning and challenging for a while, but the novelty wears off quite quickly followed by the fun, followed by any desire to continue playing
For
  • Inventive, unusual
  • Might enhance your memory
  • Easy to pick up and play
Against
  • Graphics are shonky
  • Memory clips fairly meaningless
  • Challenges are repetitive
2.9Overall Score