- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 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.

Little ones 9 to 24 months old can stop destroying Mom and Dad's computer documents with their busy fingers and, instead, enjoy some high-tech on-screen shenanigans with Jump Start Baby (Knowledge Adventure, $20).

The wonderful two-disk program uses cause-and-effect relationships, music, Internet connectivity and key-pounding actions in five games and three activities. Each one is designed to encourage curiosity while stimulating visual and auditory development.

The magical journey begins in Teddy's room, where parent and baby enjoy "Picture Fun," a coloring page completed with the pushing of random keys. Images and narration combine to reinforce colors and objects as little artists stamp footprints, leaves and other shapes onto the screen.

The third-dimensional dancing baby then stops by for a performance. He sings and gyrates to several favorite songs, such as "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes" and "Where Is Thumbkin."

Another rhythmic activity, "The Music Box," contains a baby animal band that belts out popular nursery rhymes such as "Hickory, Dickory Dock" and "London Bridge."

Making Jump Start Baby a unique experience for players, the program affords parents the ability to personalize games through text, photos, audio and video clips.

Mom and Dad will need a bit of computer equipment to accomplish this, including a way to upload digital images, a way to capture sound clips into the computer and any appropriate software for file conversions.

Additionally, a "Connect & Play" option lets baby and a remote user in cyberspace interact through the Jump Start Web site.

Now family and friends around the world can hear and talk to junior while playing peekaboo, turtle hop and a color-recognition challenge game; they also can help dress Teddy over the Internet. This high-tech magic requires that both parties have World Wide Web access and microphones.

A few other gems found in the program include Teddy's Talking Phone, which will record messages for baby to hear, and Teddy's Family Tree, used to help junior recognize family pictures.

The Baby Book, a bonus piece of software, provides an easy and fun way to create a virtual monograph of memories, including pages that can be uploaded easily to develop a family Web site.

Of course, most pages can be printed or sent by e-mail to help announce milestones such as first steps, words and news of birthdays and other special events.

Jump Start Baby (Knowledge Adventure, $20). Hybrid for Macintosh and Windows systems.

• • •

Children can interact and learn with the famous green reptile in Franklin the Turtle: Clubhouse Adventure (Knowledge Adventure, $20).

Based on the popular literary character and animated TV show, this early educational title introduces basic social skills.

Clubhouse Adventure takes 4-to 6-year-olds on a virtual exploration as they work through seven games and creative activities with Bear, Beaver, Rabbit and the other inhabitants of the forest.

Throughout the adventure, children are introduced to social values such as friendship, courage and positive attitudes. They can hone their imagination and creativity skills while building a homemade castle, engaging in a fun game of hide-and-seek or taking off with Beaver on a pirate adventure to collect coins.

As players explore, experience and conquer, they earn special badges for imagination, friendship, cooperation, courage, investigation and discovery that can be saved in the clubhouse scrapbook as well as printed out.

Franklin the Turtle: Clubhouse Adventure (Knowledge Adventure, $20). Hybrid for Macintosh and Windows 95/98 systems.

Double delight

Here are two multimedia entertainment items that might guarantee moments of merriment for children 5 and older.

• SSX by Electronic Arts (for Sony PlayStation 2, $49.99) Snowboarding has been taken to a new level with this very cool, gorgeous but depressing simulation. I call it depressing because most families have no chance of getting the PlayStation 2 system until early next year (supply has nowhere near met the demand) and therefore will not experience the stunning graphics and incredibly fluid action of this dream game.

For the million or so folks who do get the console by Christmas, pay close attention. SSX has borrowed heavily from the new extreme sport Boardercross, and players combine high-speed racing with stunning air tricks on expansive, snow-covered motocross tracks.

After selecting an athletic avatar and board (all very realistic), up to two racers can practice tricks, enter single events or join the World Circuit to unlock new characters and win medals.

Courses range from Aloha Ice Jam (gamers compete atop an iceberg being towed into the Hawaiian port) to the Tokyo Megaplex. (Imagine racing in a giant pinball machine.)

• Tigger's Honey Hunt by NewKidCo. (for Sony PlayStation, $29.99) The cuddly bear from the Hundred Acre Woods has a big problem. Winnie the Pooh needs large quantities of honey to host a party. He has asked his bouncing buddy, Tigger, to search the forest and bring back the sweet treat. So begins a wonderful, picturesque adventure that gives little brother and sister a chance to enjoy their sibling's PlayStation.

Besides searching for the pots of gold in dangerous terrain and running into Piglet, Owl and the rest of the gang, players enjoy permutations of Simon Says and Rock, Paper, Scissors plus a stick-drop challenge within colorful scenes accompanied by smile-inducing music. Up to four children will have a Tiggerific good time.

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).

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