- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 28, 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.

The creativity of capturing visual memories has opened to children with help from the Kidz Cam Digital Camera Kit.

Through a sometimes brain-draining two-step process, younger photographers use a digital camera to collect images and then download them into a robust software program. With the software, images can be manipulated and printed as well as incorporated into a variety of games and artistic expressions.

Although it sounds like a great idea, parents immediately will realize they get what they pay for. As long as the limitations of a $30 camera-and-software package are understood, the kit can deliver a fun family experience. Just don’t expect to output mega-pixel masterpieces to hang over the fireplace.

The palm-size shooter uses a mode and shutter button to allow users to take color pictures, set resolution types and capture an 18-frame video clip as they toggle through the menus and positions subjects in the viewfinder.

Clicking while listening for beeps is crucial to getting the correct setting on the camera, which uses two-letter codes displayed on a die-size LCD screen.

The flashless, auto-focus plastic camera produces decent results for the steady-handed photographer shooting in stable lighting conditions and within five feet of the subject. It can take up to 19 pictures in the preferred higher-resolution mode.

Once the camera is full, plugging it into a computer via an included USB cable will efficiently download the images into a friendly program. Parents must remember to make sure they install the driver software first so the computer can link to the camera and grab the prized possessions.

The color photos work best as e-mailed moments (via jpg or PDF file output) or as art components to the really slick software.

Once images have been moved into the Snap Kids Photo Project Software, children will love the personalization potential, especially when using the 18 manipulation tools, which include some clever warping effects.

They also can put together a slide show of compiled works or use 12 themed templates to develop a story and incorporate a favorite image. The story maker really acts as a simple word-processor program with choices of fonts, colors and sizes for text.

The best part of the software can be found under the Game Center as children enjoy challenges based on their collections. These range from putting together 48-piece jigsaw puzzles to solving a triple-tiered photo-matching game to playing a two-player virtual strategy board game named Click Flip.

Even though the Kidz Cam works only as an introductory lesson to a popular art medium, it also sneaks in some creative-writing and logic-building skills that make it well worth the low price point. Although it is recommended for ages 6 and older, I would confine it to 6- to 8-year-old art lovers with computer-savvy parents.

Kidz Cam Digital Camera Kit from Sakar International, $29.99, stand-alone product uses two AA batteries, comes with software requiring a PC with Windows 98 SE, 2000, ME, or XP operating system and at least a Pentium II 300, Celeron, AMD Athlon Processor or higher; 64 MB RAM and 100 MB free hard-drive space.

For any family in love with George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away, Legos Star Wars for Xbox is the definitive gaming treat. Youngsters will be blown away by this third-person, action-based, puzzle-solving gaming epic, which encompasses the current trilogy of “Star Wars” films.

Through cooperative modes, a pair of players enter a universe made up entirely of Legos as they eventually control more than 30 major “Star Wars” characters (also visualized as Lego blocks).

The cuteness factor alone makes the eyes water.

As players roam through levels as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker or Yoda to collect pieces to build ships, purchase upgrades and thwart the bad guys, they quickly can control various other experts such as R2-D2 to open doors, Captain Panaka to climb towers, and even an “Episode I” version of Anakin to sneak through vents.

The level of immersion is amazing. Be it a music-punctuated battle with Darth Maul amid the power grids at Theed’s Royal Palace, an engagement with a dizzying onslaught of battle droids and Clone Troopers on the Wookiee planet Kashyyyk, or a gorgeous dogfight above Coruscant (yes, players get to control spaceships and even a pod racer on Tattooine), the developers have created an all-ages, all-“Star Wars” extravaganza.

After completing a mission from one of the films, each of which begins with the familiar “Star Wars” text scroll, players can return to a home base at Dexter Jettster’s famous diner, seen in “Episode II.” There they can buy upgrades, unlock characters and even walk outside to view some of the ships built using their collected pieces.

Loaded with replayability and better directed and acted (a combination of pantomime and grunts) than the actual films, Lego Star Wars gives children wonderful hands-on access to an epic space fantasy.

Lego Star Wars, from Eidos for Xbox, $39.99.

ROMper Room is devoted to finding the best of “edutainment.” Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com

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