- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

Web 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.

The last time children enjoyed the learning adventures of Didi and Ditto, they were struggling to free one of the bucktoothed beaver siblings from the clutches of a vegetarian wolf while conquering skills taught in kindergarten.

Well, Didi and Ditto are back in another beautifully animated game, The Wolf King. This time, they must save Jako Valley from a carnivorous beast and his lieutenants, who are threatening to destroy the beavers’ homeland.

The child tackles challenges geared to a first-grade level after hearing a prologue from the yellow rabbit Hip Hop and choosing to control one of the furry protagonists. The player then enters a world that mixes 3-D graphics and wacky characters with humorous situations while enjoying 16 activities covering math, literacy and science.

The story finds Didi and Ditto making a bet with the Wolf King to regain control of their lands. The player then must visit eight locations, confronting a wolf lieutenant in each, to win a medallion in an educational game.

The player also must collect royal flags by helping some of the creatures of Jako Valley with tasks ranging from loading stones with words on them into a wagon to learning opposites to using recipes to mix nine colors and create a painting.

Stopping by the Deep Forest, for example, has the player trying to find hot spots with the mouse’s cursor. A click on a yellow mushroom makes Hip Hop pop out to offer true/false statements on science, such as, “The sun is a flaming planet.”

A click on a white mushroom brings forth the colorblind owl, Hootdini, who needs help getting a snail choir to cooperate by singing along with sheet music. The child must click on the snail that matches each colored note to get a basic lesson on reading music from the owl. The player receives a flag for successfully matching all of the notes in an eight-bar musical piece and then gets to compose and record his own snail music while incorporating four rhythm tracks.

A click on some trees brings the furry Lieutenant Lizzy to challenge the player to a game of chance called Shut the Box. Each player rolls dice to close the lids on boxes labeled with the numbers 1 through 10. The player must add up the numbers on the dice before closing out numbers.

The enormous number of games, the disciplines introduced and the colorful animation will keep players 5 to 7 years old busy for days, but in addition, three difficulty levels, slots for up to four players and an appealing price point make the title a requirement for any family’s software shelf.

Didi and Ditto: The Wolf King (first grade), from Kutoka Interactive, $19.99, cross-compatible for PC and Macintosh systems.

A pair of multimedia treats

• Metroid Prime Pinball, from Nintendo for Nintendo DS ($34.99). Famed female warrior Samus Aran lends her worlds and talents to a virtual pinball game that goes above the call of duty to transform a traditional challenge into a dynamic experience.

Players work through six tables complete with bumpers, multiple flippers, rails and ramps as they rack up points and collect artifacts to progress to new areas. Cleverly, Samus is the silver orb (a power she displays in her other games) and the player will realize it during challenges in which she transforms back into her third-person warrior form and is controlled to blast away at creatures familiar to the Metroid Prime universe.

Complicated minigames that involve battling large bosses by hitting them with the pinball, having a Triclops wander around the table to grasp the pinball and spit it back at unwanted holes, and knocking out roaming pirates before their missiles destroy the rolling Samus will keep players riveted to the presentation delivered on the DS’ pair of screens.

Subtle nuances that add to the immersive fun include creepy sound effects, the ability to shake the table by touching the bottom screen and to feel the pinball hit bumpers by using the included Nintendo DS Rumble Pak cartridge in the secondary expansion slot.

Additionally, up to eight players can use a wireless connection to one game cartridge via the DS Download Play function and simultaneously play pinball while activating enemies to attack their competition’s tables.

• Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, from Warner Home Video for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, $29.99. Mr. Burton’s latest visual masterpiece arrives on a single DVD to give owners access to the spooky 19th-century world of a man befuddled by love and the magic behind the film’s stop-animation process.

Viewers first can enjoy the 77-minute tale of Victor, who learns from a rather lively corpse and his visit to the Land of the Dead that he has a lot of living to do with his true love, Victoria.

Bonus features briefly describe just how incredibly complicated the animation process was and include a seven-minute look at the making of the puppets, pre-production art galleries (using stop animation, of course), six minutes on the select group of animators involved in the project and six minutes on how the actors’ voices complete the process of bringing the puppets to life.

No computer-specific extras exist, not even a link to the movie’s fantastic Web site (www.corpsebridemovie.com), putting the DVD’s bonus features to shame. Viewers will at least want to rent the DVD to appreciate the effort made in producing this gorgeous movie.

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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