- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 2, 2002

In a world of violent video games, where developing dexterity of the thumb and index finger is infinitely more important than flexing 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.

Children can travel around the world to understand the diversity of creatures in Jumpstart's Animal Adventures. This colorful, musical animated expedition places young zoologists in environments filled with facts and beasts as they work through tiers of activities.

Players 4 years old and older begin by entering a contest sponsored by Habitat magazine. Players must complete entry forms by playing games and taking photographs of animals to become official explorers.

Frankie, a talking dog, always has a word of encouragement as the adventure begins aboard the All-Over-Rover. The group must visit a temperate forest, savanna grassland, tide pool and tropical rain forest during the game.

Each self-contained habitat presents a lush and memorable landscape beckoning the child to click around to look, listen and learn about its inhabitants. For example, those with a penchant for sea life can visit the expansive tide pool and run into talking starfish, babbling barnacles and loud lobsters among the watery denizens. Frankie quickly jumps in and explains which six creatures must be found and photographed and which games to play to complete that entry form.

Depending on the difficulty level chosen, the child may see the name of the animal needed under the form's empty frames or be given a clue such as "eyes on its arms."

The player then can roam around the tide pool and click on animals to engage them. Touching a crusty crab leads to a bit of knowledge, a game and even a punk-rock-inspired music video by the Crab-a-Matics performing their hit "Regeneration," which explains how crustaceans grow new limbs.

Games offered in this habitat include a Pac Man-type romp featuring an octopus looking for crabmeat, two crabs battling it out and a side-scrolling challenge in which a hermit crab avoids a tentacled predator while looking for snacks and a new shell.

When the child finds an animal to be photographed, he simply clicks on the camera icon, clicks on the creature which then displays a large viewfinder and then clicks again. The picture moves to the entry-form area, and the player must decide where it goes on the form.

Off-line activities can be activated either by completing an entry form to earn an arts-and-crafts project or by accumulating points by winning games to print out up to 60 stickers.

The title mixes original music, 3-D computer-generated cartoon snippets and 2-D movable landscapes with 40 beasts to offer a deep simulation bound to keep the animal lover in the family smiling and very busy.

Animal Adventures, Knowledge Adventure, $19.99, is cross-compatible with Macintosh and PC systems.

In another attempt to educate junior, the classic game of hot potato gets a new look in Question-Air. A red sphere, which contains more than 200 questions, comes to life when it is caught by a player.

An obnoxious quizmaster belts out the queries and offers the contestants the choice of three answers. Players are given another chance if the answer is incorrect, while a correct answer is greeted by victory music, and the ball is tossed on to the next player. Questions cover everything from sports stars to geography to mathematics.

Question-Air, Educational Insights, $24.95, is a stand-alone unit requiring three AA batteries.

ROMper Room is a column devoted to finding the best of multimedia edutainment. Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).


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