- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 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.
The world's youngest caped crusader returns with a tasty adventure in his third CD-ROM, Pajama Sam: You Are What You Eat From Your Head to Your Feet (Humongous Entertainment, $24.99).
Three- to 8-year-olds will work up an appetite solving this animated adventure-mystery game while unknowingly honing problem-solving skills and learning some sensible nutritional lessons.
As the adventure opens, Sam is found eating his way through boxes of Choc-Amok cookies, trying to collect enough box tops to send away for a Pajama Man Superhero action figure.
Just as Sam starts on the last of many boxes, mom is heard in the kitchen, calling him to get ready for supper. Unfortunately, Sam has stuffed himself with the cookies, which magically transport the pint-size hero to MopTop Island. There, a battle rages between fat, grumpy sweets and healthy, strong and cheerful fruits and vegetable.
As Sam gets stuck in the chewy center of the fight, he realizes he must get back home to eat a healthy dinner. But, alas, a group of renegade carbohydrates turns into jailers as a chocolate bar (that sounds suspiciously like the late Paul Lynde) jails him along with Florette, a soft-spoken broccoli who is serving time for trying to help sweets and healthy foods get along.
The two make a break for it and Sam must help Florette and other missing delegates, including Chuck Cheddar and grains and bread spokesman Pierre Le Pain, get to a food group peace conference. All of the colorful and well-developed characters are a hoot, especially Granny Smythe an elderly green apple who can remember a time when there were only four food groups.
While Sam rescues and explores, he must collect items that might come in handy for later problems, as well as search for 20 Choc-Amok box tops.
As children help Sam in his quest to get home, it is important that they listen closely to the cartoony cast of characters because their on-screen interaction provides many clues.
Of course, the title ultimately wants to teach important nutritional and etiquette lessons and does so with minigames, such as the "Bean Counting and Sorting Machine" maze, "Saving Granny Smythe from the Caramel Pit" and matching punch lines to jokes from Mickey Hollandaise.
For added play value, the game offers multiple paths of exploration with different puzzles that lead to a new adventure every time.
Pajama Sam (Humongous Entertainment, $24.99). Hybrid for Macintosh and Windows 95/98 systems.
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Little hands start grasping for mom and dad's cell phone and computer mouse long before they know how to use them. LeapFrog is applying a little microchip technology to its Soft and Smart line of toys to give curious children a bit of grown-up fun.
The company's lineup includes the Kitty Phone ($11.99) and My First Mouse On the Farm ($14.99), both featuring animal characters that include a horse, a cow, and the red rooster, while its Puppy Phone ($11.99) and My First Mouse Around Town ($14.99) highlight such vehicles as pink ice cream trucks, yellow school buses, red trains and green bicycles.
By introducing friendly characters and simple lessons, the products let children 9 months old and older explore new experiences through touching and positive reinforcement.
The plush phones are shaped into a blue dog and orange tabby, each with five buttons. Children can choose "learn" or "find" modes that challenge through bright colors, item recognition, sounds and the numbers 1 to 5.
The My First Mouse products give youngsters a flat pad and soft plush peripheral that rolls over six areas. Again, children can choose to explore what each section represents. Roll over the first block on "Around Town," for example, and learn that "one red train sounds like this" or choose the "find" mode and the child is asked to click on the three pink ice cream trucks and repeat their sound.
The mouse, which looks like a little yellow rodent, actually has a roller ball on its base and when depressed, a "click" noise can be heard. If junior is not quite ready to be a computer wizard, the mouse pad images also can be activated just by pushing on the picture.
Stand alone Kitty Phone ($11.99), My First Mouse On the Farm ($14.99), Puppy Phone ($11.99) and My First Mouse Around Town ($14.99) are from LeapFrog and all include batteries.
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 multimedia entertainment items for children 5 years and older that will guarantee multiple moments of merriment.
Speed Punks by Sony (For Sony PlayStation, $39.99) Throw away any thoughts of sportsmanship and get ready for an intense go-cart driving simulation featuring six giant-headed youngsters in need of a good spanking. Fans of "Chocobo Racing," "Crash Team Racing" and Disney's "Magical Racing Tour" will immediately appreciate the gorgeous-looking and quick-moving game filled with more than 24 frenetic tracks and an abundance of harrowing hazards. The goal of this ditty is to blow up, slime and outmaneuver opponents while cheating across the finishing line. Advanced gamers might say "been there, done that" but newbies to the go-cart racing genre will enjoy the devilish delinquency.
Scooby-Doo's Original Mysteries by Warner Home Video (For PC or Mac with DVD drive, $24.98) Zoinks, families with a DVD-ROM on their computers will love this new disc featuring the exploits of a pooch that has been solving mysteries for 31 years. Thanks to the explosion of the digital video disc format, the first five episodes of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon are now available in crystal-clear resolution with Dolby digital sound. That means hard-core fans of Daphne, Velma, Freddy, Scooby and Shaggy can permanently enjoy animated classics, such as the pilot episode "What a Night for a Knight," which features the voices of Casey Kasem and Don Messick. Additions to the disc include song bytes from classic shows, a trivia game and recipes including one for Shaggy's meat-stuffed hero sandwich. This is one Scooby snack worth investigating.

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