- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2007

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 Brighter Minds company tries to live up to its name as it challenges children to learn through a pair of releases that bring Workman Publishing’s popular series of flash-card decks to the television screen.

Its Brain Quest DVD Games offer a version for grades one through three (ages 6 to 8) and grades three through five (ages 8 to 10). Children can pop a digital versatile disc into a player and use its controller’s directional pad and Enter key to answer more than 500 questions.

Question types include story problems, true/false, multiple choices, associations, equations and word puzzles that cover nearly every subject, including presidents, geometry, history, spelling, geography, languages, time, money and animals.

More of a cleverly designed test than a game, each DVD plunges the student into the action with zero fanfare and uses sparse animation, a narrator and the occasional appearance of a cartoony wizard to highlight and explain questions and answers.

Extra content on topics (such as more information on the diet of a koala bear) is provided occasionally along with infrequently interspersed minigames, which can include very simply executed challenges. Children can assemble an alien creature, fight enemy spacecraft and shut down a boiler in an engine room by selecting the correct valve.

Stress levels for students are at a minimum here. No scores are kept, no time limits are enforced, and no competition is really offered, so students can work casually through what seems to be an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge.

Mom and dad even can get involved, as an extra question geared toward them will pop up from time to time.

The challenge provides a quick and easy way for parents to see exactly how much their child knows in a familiar, nonstandardized setting. Additionally, each Brain Quest DVD package comes with a minideck of tethered cards that contain another 150 questions for learning away from the screen.

However, the price point is too steep for the lack of bells and whistles, and my 7-year-old tester lost interest after about 20 minutes. For a bit more money, either Microsoft Student (as low as $36 with rebates), Discovery Channel’s online service Cosmeo ($99 per year or $9.95 a month) or Leapfrog’s Leapster ($59.99) might be a better investment for a child’s ever-expanding educational and entertainment needs.

Brain Quest DVD Games ($24.95 each) are available at participating retailers and online at www.brightermindsmedia.com.

A trio of treats

Here are three multimedia items for the entire family:

• Chicken Little: Ace in Action from Buena Vista Games (for Wii, $39.99).

The superhero alter ego of Disney’s famed computer-animated fowl stars with his Hollywoodized pals in a game that mixes third-person adventure and vehicular action.

Through plenty of help and interaction with Nintendo’s three-dimensional motion-detecting controller system, the player guides Ace Little on the ground, Abby in a spaceship and Runt in a tank as they save the universe from Foxy Loxy and her evil minions.

More than 20 missions are available that take place on four celestial bodies — Pluto, Saturn, Mars and the Moon — as each hero moves around, targets enemies, unlocks blast doors (courtesy of a device engineered by Mr. Fish), collects power-ups and blasts away to victory.

Adding icing to this delicious multimedia package, veteran actor Adam West reprises his vocal role of Ace to offer his dry-witted delivery to a game that takes advantage of the Wii’s capabilities and will thrill younger gamers in the family.

• “That’s So Suite Life of Hannah Montana: Mixed Up Mashed Up Edition,” from Buena Vista Home Entertainment (for DVD-enabled computers and home-entertainment centers, $19.99).

A television crossover special, slightly more important than the day Barnaby Jones met Cannon, arrives on DVD to thrill tweens devoted to the Disney Channel.

Popular stars of their own shows, Zack, Cody, Raven and Hannah meet up at the Tipton Hotel for a special episode, and of course, hijinks ensue. The 68-minute spectacular is supplemented by a music video with Hannah Montana singing “Who Said” and a never-before-seen-in-America episode from the “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” or, rather, the soon-to-be-aired episode “Health and Fitness.” (Trust me; check local listings.)

Also, a surprisingly interactive set-top game, So You Think You Know Raven, Volume 2, offers players the chance to spin the Raven wheel and answer a six-question challenge based on clips from “That’s So Raven,” behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast.

• “Disney DVD Game World: Princess Edition,” from Buena Vista Home Entertainment (for DVD-enabled home entertainment centers, $29.99).

An enchanted three-dimensional pop-up castle becomes the playing field for this home entertainment extravaganza that takes girls into an on-screen board game created for the DVD player.

Cinderella, Ariel, Snow White, Belle, Aurora and Jasmine, along with their friends and enemies, are all part of the fun as up to four players try to collect six items and become Princess of the Royal Ball.

After players click on a virtual numerical spinner, they are whisked through the yard and castle (like a virtual theme-park ride) and land on either an activity, trivia, mystery or penalty space.

They can be tasked with a multiple-choice question or an identification puzzle. They even may be asked to dance and act. Correct answers or a lucky space deliver an item and, once all six are collected, a final three-part challenge must be completed to win.

The game takes about 30 minutes to complete for two players and features some interaction with all the Disney princesses, art from the movies, video of the stars, automatic score-keeping, more than 250 activities and a slick-enough design to keep younger players entertained.

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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