- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 10, 2008

A friendly group of animated animals teaches children the finer points of life in Jumpstart Advanced Preschool World (Knowledge Adventure for PCs with a minimum Pentium III processor using XP or Vista operating systems, $29.99).

The ambitious effort, contained in a four-disc CD-ROM set, offers 60 activities and exposure to 25 skill sets as children 3 to 5 years old move around a cheery, dynamic three-dimensional land.

This free-roaming environment consists of three locations - the Neighborhood, Preschool Town and Craft Corner - with each offering a distinctive module of fun. Action includes talking to characters, resource collection (using a backpack), playing games and accepting missions. It’s similar to a typical role-playing game, though not as complicated.

The player begins his journey greeted by a song from Frankie the Dog and the Jumpstart gang. He must next design his own avatar complete with choice of mouth, hairstyle, eyes, shoes and clothing.

A well-rounded introduction to parts of the town begins with help from Frankie, CJ the frog and Keisha the tiger. Much of the narrative provides lessons in following directions as the child maneuvers his avatar around the terrain by clicking and moving the mouse.

In the busy Neighborhood, the child can watch a video at the Movie House, play music on a jukebox, modify his house, try a giant water slide, plant and water flowers, take a photo of a character, record a story (microphone required), or go for a swim.

Of course, he also can get a jump-start on his education in the Learning House, which boasts eight games. The focus of the challenges is numbers one through 10, alphabet sequencing and letter-to-word association, which is explored using matching and click-and-drag-style puzzles.

Frankie and his pals help the player every step of the way and remind him about sharing, friendship, hygiene, eating habits and even exercise.

Colored pieces of three storybooks are earned for helping characters through a variety of tasks, such as cheering up Eleanor the elephant by finding items that fell out of her backpack or collecting seeds for Hopsalot the rabbit. Once a book is ready (a child can read along with the narrated story), a new part of the world is available (subsequently accessed again via a map).

Complete storybooks open up Preschool Town (which concentrates on slightly more difficult activities, such as filling a grocery list and driving a fire engine) and Craft Corner, a place with a simple-to-use art program to develop an original, ready-to-print masterpiece.

Very responsive controls and plenty of objectives for a child to accomplish will keep him busy. From a parent’s end, the disc installation was flawless. Better yet, parents have their own workspace to track progress and customize their child’s Jumpstart experience by adding personal photos highlighting holidays.

Age range:The box says ages 3 to 5, but only the sharpest of 3-year-olds will have any chance of understanding what is going on. The younger set will gladly sit in their parent’s lap and interact as the Jumpstart world opens up to them.

Game Bytes

Here’s an abbreviated look at some multimedia items for the entire family:

Dilbert: Cubicle Chaos (for cell phone from Namco, $2.99 to $5.99 for a monthly subscription) - Cartoonist Scott Adams‘ famed engineer takes more white-collar grief in an over-the-top, sarcasm-enriched, task-managing game.

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