- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 29, 2006

Online exclusive

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.

Educational Insights upgrades its knowledge-packed homage to a classic game show with a new name and software-management elements to keep students mired in questions and learning.

Classroom Jeopardy combines wireless technology with televised entertainment for a nearly exact duplication of the 40-year-old television show currently hosted by Alex Trebek.

This expensive package comes with three wireless remotes for players and a host remote, three erasable name cards (with a marker), wireless antenna, power adapter and the important base unit. The base unit acts as an electronic scoreboard and brain center for use with the pre-programmed cartridge, which contains five sampler games.

Connect the base unit to the back of a television (preferably 27-inch or larger) using the included A/V jack cord and pop a total of eight AA batteries into the remotes to turn any home or schoolroom into a quiz-show studio.

A moderator is chosen, and three players view a category board, choose a topic and buzz in to give their answers in the form of questions. Just as in the real game, all of the nuances exist, including Single and Double Jeopardy, Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy. (Oh yes, the thinking theme plays, ready to irritate.)

For users who do not want to buy more pre-programmed cartridges covering elementary and middle school curricula ($27.99), the package offers a much easier way to create games and download them into the cartridge. There’s even a way to share games with others in the world of Classroom Jeopardy.

Provided software, compatible with a PC or Mac, contains a template similar to common text and spreadsheet editing programs. Users simply type in the questions and answers to create a personalized Jeopardy game.

Once completed, the cheat sheet is printed out for the host and the actual game is uploaded to the cartridge via an included docking station that plugs into the computer’s USB port.

The added beauty of the system is that users also can log on to the Classroom Jeopardy Web site (www.classroomjeopardy.com), register (which requires the product’s serial number) and access a massive set of games already created and uploaded by an online community.

They all have been checked for inappropriate content (although not for factual accuracy) by Educational Insights and provide quizzes on everything from ancient China for the sixth-grader to Dr. Seuss for the second-grader to Ripley’s bizarre facts for the high school student.

The caveat to this wonderful educational assistant is the price, which will overwhelm the typical family. For the home-school group or school district, however, the benefits are obvious, as the challenge to learn moves away from the book and desk to become a pop-culture event.

Classroom Jeopardy from Educational Insights, $499.99. Additional storage cartridges available for $14.99.

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).

Trio of multimedia treats

• The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Special Collector’s Edition, from Buena Vista Home Entertainment for DVD-enabled computers and entertainment systems, $34.99.

This Academy Award-winning effort transforms author C.S. Lewis’ fantasy into a blockbuster movie that is celebrated in a two-disc DVD set.

As the four Pevensie children challenge the reign of the White Witch, with some help from a lion, beavers and a Jolly Fat Man, viewers will be sucked into the 135-minute epic of courage and sacrifice.

Wonderful extras on the first disc include an enthusiastic optional commentary track with director Andrew Adamson and the four child actors and a pop-up fact track loaded with information about the book and author. Nuggets that personalize the source material include learning that one of Mr. Lewis’ wardrobes is on display in Wheaton College in Chicago and discovering the origins of his nickname, “Jack.”

The second disc delivers a deconstruction of the movie through hours of featurettes that touch upon every level of behind-the-scenes preparation. Additionally, 11 main characters are examined via the visual effects that brought them to life and biographical data told in narrated storybook-like visuals.

I especially enjoyed the Explore Narnia map, as it mixes narration, 3-D animation, color illustrations and movie snippets to explain all of the legendary world’s lands. Also, the Legends in Time portal offers a similar presentation, in a time-machine layout, to compare Narnian history in years to the passing of minutes in Professor Kirke’s England.

Buena Vista really allows the family to access all elements of the Narnia world through this package, which even includes a couple of pieces of concept art suitable for framing.

• Age of Empires: The Age of Kings, from Majesco Entertainment for Nintendo DS, $29.99.

The standard for real-time strategy games arrives on Nintendo’s dual-screen hand-held system and is transformed into a turn-based adventure, giving up to four players an educational and time-consuming journey into history.

Conquerors command Britons, Franks, Mongols, Saracens or the Japanese as they work through missions or extended campaigns from the Dark Ages to Middle Ages. Players must meticulously micromanage resources and funds to research and employ technologies, lead more than 60 types of soldiers into battle and build structures to take control of the world.

A dramatic musical score keeps the player awake during some of the meticulous turn-taking before he directs heroes such as Richard the Lionhearted or Saladin into skirmishes, which are displayed on the DS’ top screen with a bit of a Monty Python’s “Holy Grail” feel (lots of grunts and clanks as nearly-3-D animated minions beat one another).

Leaders will be pleased with the interface that allows them to use the stylus pen on the DS’ touch screen to move troops around maps, develop their lands through numerous menus and access a library for a quick history lesson.

• Ice Age 2: The Meltdown, from Vivendi Universal for PlayStation 2, $39.99. Although this platform-loaded, third-person adventure does nothing to advance its genre, youngsters and unseasoned gamers will love the chance to control a lively Scrat the squirrel as he spins, climbs, squirms, hops, swims, kicks and digs his way around lush, melting environments to collect an assortment of nuts and meet up with his animated co-stars.

Offered as both a celebration and an extension of the blockbuster movie, the game combines film segments, voice work from stars Ray Romano, Denis Leary and John Leguizamo and plenty of cute creatures and humor with compulsory minichallenges (Penguin Bowling takes a whole lot of practice) to progress though an entertaining prehistoric world.

A decent variety of activities, such as handling Sid the Sloth as he careens and dances his way down a slide, adds to the fun and makes up for the chronic acorn collecting, which will tire even the most rabid Scrat fanatic.

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