- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2000

In a world of ultraviolent video games, where dexterity of the thumb and index finger is infinitely more important than the flexing of the cerebrum, there must be a place for children and their parents to interact and actually learn something from that overpriced multimedia computer/ gaming system. Take a deep breath and enter the ROMper Room, where learning is a four-letter word cool.
Fisher-Price's Outdoor Adventures Ranger Trail (Learning Co., $19.95) helps prepare 4- to 7-year-olds for their first camping trip, instilling respect for the environment and wildlife while introducing science, art and creative play.
Campers take off for Camp Wonderoo and engage in seven activities to gain coveted badges and become junior rangers. Challenges include learning about the stars, creating cave paintings and joining in on rollicking campfire sing-alongs.
One thing rangers in the making learn immediately, the Wonderoo Salute, may cause some racket in the house as children leap into the air with an enthusiastic yell of "Wonderoo" before getting down to some serious exploration.
An important first task entails helping Ranger Rudy choose the necessary supplies, which earns rangers a supply badge, an on-screen backpack filled with navigational menus and a virtual camera able to take 12 pictures that can be saved in a scrapbook.
As children hike through the woods, they explore by clicking on different areas of the screen to uncover hidden animals or unearth forest facts. For example, click on the pine cone and learn that the cone is nature's way of protecting the seeds. The cone is naturally rounded so that when it falls to the ground, it will roll out of the shade of the mature tree and into the sun to sprout, creating a new tree.
Hikers will discover and learn about more than 60 animals, plants and rocks they find in the woods. Another of the program's objectives is to find six items along the forest trail, such as a fox, crayfish, wild turkey, snail, sunflower and even a piece of ancient pottery.
Throughout the forest, children reveal plenty of games. When walking under the night sky, they can identify constellations, or during the day, they can race their sailboat on the creek.
In this race game, children choose one of three log boats to race down the river obstacle course, where turtles, crabs and other boats can slow players while feathers, fish and rapids speed them along. Finish first and win a sailing badge.
Badges also can be collected in astronomy, nature, music and cave painting by completing specific tasks.
A highlight of the game for this parent was the unique campfire songs available in karaoke style, including "Saraspondah" and "Ram Sam Sam."
Once the forest has been fully explored, children can test their knowledge at the Nature Match Game, which requires them to correlate names with items in a "Concentration"-like simulation.
Packaged with Outdoor Adventure Ranger Trail are two full-length bonus CD-ROMS, Time to Play Pet Shop and Little People Christmas Activity Center.
Both programs make excellent additions to any CD-ROM library. The Christmas Activity Center bursts with holiday-related tasks such as building a snowman and making crafts. Pet Shop helps teach children some of the responsibilities of pet ownership through numerous interactive levels.
Fisher-Price's Outdoor Adventures Ranger Trail (Learning Co. $19.95). Hybrid for Macintosh and Windows 95/98 systems.

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Children too young to handle Nintendo's Episode 1 Racer game still get a chance to control a legendary Podracer and learn a bit about physics through the "Star Wars"-inspired Anakin's Speedway (Lucas Learning, $19.95).
Designers begin by building racecourses on sweaty Tatooine, the chilly Ando Prime or swampy Baroonda while choosing Anakin Skywalker, BenQuadinaros, Gasgano or Sebulba to drive for them.
Track building is made easy using a tile system that allows children to change the course by clicking on any of its six sections. Design choices include multiple combinations of twists, turns, loops, straightaways, tunnels and jumps, offering varying degrees of difficulty.
When controlling the vehicle, players mainly worry about the speed of the racer. Hit a loop too slowly, and a lesson in momentum is learned as the Podracer crashes to the ground. Hit a curve too fast and sail off the track. Don't have enough speed for the jump and prepare to land in the center of a multitentacled Sarlacc, which almost consumed Han Solo in "Return of the Jedi."
Children also will pick up some important skills, such as planning and decision-making, while developing the track, anticipating jumps and managing fuel.
I found the dancing Banthas, cheering Sand People and menacing Wampas a nice addition to the action. However, it would have been nice actually to race against opponents.
After a day at the track, drivers can retire to the Podrace Hut for a bit of relaxation in the Jukebox room or learn more about the racers through printable trading cards that can be colored.
Throughout the Podrace Hut are fun clickables and animated snippets, including the ridiculous Jar Jar Binks, who seems to pop up to annoy for no apparent reason.
Anakin's Speedway(Lucas Learning, $19.95) Hybrid for Macintosh and Windows 95/98 systems.
ROMper Room is a column devoted to finding the best of multimedia "edutainment." Calls, letters or faxes about a particular column or suggestions for future columns are always welcome. Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (joseph@twtmail.com).

Double delight:

Here are two entertainment games for children 5 years old and older that will guarantee multiple moments of merriment.
Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour, by Eidos (For Sony PlayStation, $39.99) - The folks who brought GEX the Gecko to video-game life work with Disney's Imagineers to entrance children with a delightful driving simulation based on one of America's most recognizable resort complexes. When a fireworks machine explodes after some Chip-and-Dale shenanigans, the two furry friends need players' help to travel around Florida's Disney World, competing against other drivers, to retrieve the machine pieces so the nightly show can go on.
Racing through the parks, players will recognize everything from the Haunted Mansion to Space Mountain to the new Rock and Roll Roller Coaster while searching for pieces to take home the checkered flag. Along the way, drivers compete against or become favorites such as Jiminy Cricket or original characters such as the feisty fowl, Oliver Chickly III. Despite the blatant advertising for the theme park, the title offers plenty of fun. However, if I have to hear "It's a Small World" one more time, the game goes out the window.
ChuChu Rocket by Sega (For Sega Dreamcast, $29.99) The classic confrontation between cat and mouse enters the 21st century with a very challenging puzzle game. The maniacs responsible for Sonic the Hedgehog have created more than 100 levels of frustrating action with an addiction quotient equal to that of Tetris.
Players act as a politically correct exterminators and to triumph must lead the most rodents into a spaceship. However, beware of those ferocious felines controlled by opponents. If one sneaks its way into a craft, the mouse population is reduced by a third, and so are one's chances of winning. Players also can custom-design puzzles, and the title connects to Sega's multiplayer, on-line gaming network so the entire family can challenge the world.

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