- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 16, 2005

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.

Digital video discs teach as well as charm children in a pair of packages perfect for the family home entertainment center.

Each of BEqual Interactive’s DVD products brings the traditional board game to the television screen in a trivia-question extravaganza that uses dynamic leveling technology to adjust for knowledge levels, allowing even the youngest of players to compete against the resident smarty-pants.

First, the company has tapped the comedic talents of Monty Python legend John Cleese, the brains at the Princeton Review and the media archives of the History Channel to help turn players into Time Troopers.

Mr. Cleese portrays Special Agent Wormold of the British Intelligence Agency IM-6. He has created a time-transference program and requires some help to right the wrongs of the past. To be a member of the elite Troopers, each player must pass a test, and only the most successful join the squad.

Each player moves along a 12-tiled virtual catwalk that hovers above a black hole, answering a wide range of history trivia challenges formatted as multiple choice, anagrams, true or false (called “for real” or “no way”) and timed questions.

The DVD controller is used to navigate the rounds and answer via a menu-driven system, though vocal responses often are required. The 1,700 possible questions incorporating 300 video clips range from “What was Saddam Hussein carrying when he was caught?” to “What color was used to describe the stock market crash?” to “Who is not allowed to step into a professional sumo ring?”

Agent Wormold’s female assistant, Braxton, narrates most of the proceedings, which can take a quartet of junior agents about an hour to complete.

Additionally, when on-screen, Mr. Cleese is in hilarious form as he delivers extra facts and video cards that can help determine the outcome of the game by moving a player forward or back during the action. The game comes with a second disc, on which Mr. Cleese explains the game to parents and children in his unique style. It even showcases a bit of footage from a classic Monty Python skit.

Next, a virtual animal adventure takes place on a single DVD in Show Me the Wild, which combines 1,600 questions with 200 video clips and photos culled from the National Geographic archive.

Presented in a game-show format and offering the same basic question format of Time Troopers, the game is hosted by the pompous Lance Roberts (actor John O’Hurley of “Seinfeld”) as up to four players choose a creature for a game piece and tackle trivia based on the wild kingdom.

The visuals are amazing as players watch the likes of loggerhead turtles, snow leopards and the whale shark in action while conquering a 12-stage path to victory.

In addition to the DVD, owners get a large world map peppered with creatures for the tykes to hang in their bedrooms.

Time Troopers and Show Me the Wild from BEqual, $29.95 each, for DVD-enabled home entertainment centers and computers.

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).

Duo of multimedia treats

Thomas’ Sodor Celebration, from HIT Entertainment, for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, $19.99. Sixty years of the Rev. Wilbert Vere Awdry’s train-engine stories are honored in a single DVD that, unfortunately, hardly does justice to this staple in the playtime diet of many younger children.

The extras easily are the highlights of the disc, not the seven episodes culled from last year’s season of the stop-motion animated show “Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends.” Viewers can learn about 10 of the characters, sing along to a pair of songs, read an on-screen book based on one of Mr. Awdry’s tales and enjoy five games requiring use of the DVD controller.

These challenges include matching colors and numbers to help Thomas deliver coal, reassembling a railroad track, taking a trivia quiz and decorating the new Sodor station with streamers, balloons and signs.

If only the disc’s creators had picked episodes spanning the show’s eight seasons and provided a bit of history on the Thomas legend, fans really would have been celebrating.

SpongeBob SquarePants Keyboard from KidzMouse for Macintosh (9.1 and above) or Windows (98SE/2000/ME/XP) systems with USB or PC2 connection, $29.99. This super, child-friendly computer peripheral offers a 67-key set (sans numerical pad and function keys), rounded pieces and plenty of Bikini Bottom style. The colorful keyboard allows junior to enter the hunt-and-peck world of computer navigation with the help of a famous animated character.

SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward and Plankton all hang out along the aqua-blue borders of the device, which features bright yellow, green and orange keys along with an “I love bubbles” moniker. In addition to providing 37 fewer keys, so as not to confuse younger users, the unit also has in-board software that only affords typists one letter per keystroke so creative sessions aren’t messed up with streams of run-on characters.

KidzMouse also offers a SpongeBob Scroll Mouse ($29.95) that fits nicely in smaller hands, uses optical technology and provides the functionality of a typical adult-size mouse. Users also can admire the Krabby Patty-themed images printed on the device.

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