- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

In a world of violent 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.

Young children can journey to Dragon Land to catch some amphibians and enjoy a concert in Dragon Frog Jamboree. Based on the popular PBS show "Dragon Tales," the game features the exploits of 6-year-old Emmy and her 4-year-old brother, Max. The pair frequently visits a lush land filled with colorful characters and mythic beasts to learn about friendship, conquer fear and solve problems.

The game begins on a low note, presenting the show's opening animation and theme song looking as if it was pulled from a poor VHS copy of an episode. Graphics quickly get much better, though, as a player helps the brother and sister look for a dragon scale to send them into Dragon Land in a pretty animated sequence.

Once in the magical environment, players ages 3 to 6 must choose a pair of explorers to assist in rounding up a bunch of frogs that are too busy playing to realize they are needed to perform in the annual music celebration at Singing Springs.

Players can select the team of Max and the blue cowardly dragon Ord; Emmy and the young, pink female dragon Cassie; or the two-headed dragon, Zak and Wheezie. Once the choice is made, the child clicks around gorgeous, 2-D environments as the main characters offer encouragement.

If the player chooses Zak and Wheezie, he finds himself visiting Dandelion Rock, Meadow Forest and Mushroom Meadow to find the amphibians, solve a maze and play with some musical toadstools.

To catch a frog, the player must either find its obscured outline in the complex scenery or use a listening flower. As the player passes the flower over the landscape, the frog's croaking will get louder. Once the flower turns red, the child can click and reveal a frog.

Once 12 of the critters are rounded up and a Concentration-like game is completed, the child can hear the green crooners belt out a tune.

Overall, the child will work through 15 scenes and nine challenges that primarily hone pattern recognition, memory and follow verbal instructions. Other games include maneuvering Cassie to capture the correct color Flutterbys to complete the missing color of a rainbow, filling in flower patterns and building a playground.

Always overseeing the action is Quetzal, the wise adult dragon who provides guidance as well as asks the player to choose from three levels of difficulty and constantly and annoyingly reminds him to use the listening flower to find the frogs.

Dragon Frog Jamboree features watercolor-like environments, original voices from the show and enough activities (including the obligatory coloring pages) to keep junior "ribbeted" to the computer screen for at least a couple of hours.

Dragon Tales: Dragon Frog Jamboree by Encore Software, $19.99, compatible with PC systems.

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, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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