The world's greatest detective challenges a player to hone his logic skills in Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes (Legacy Interactive, single CD-ROM for PC or Intel-based Macintosh computer systems, $19.99).
The title requires junior proteges of the legendary literary character to work through 16 cases by deciphering a variety of visual puzzles. This fun, casual gaming experience set in Victorian England offers environmental conundrums and the use of reasoning, observation and memorization to quickly isolate evidence and suspects and solve a crime.
Unfortunately, the presentation is definitely elementary, dear Watson. (I couldn't resist.) This is not a third-person action-adventure game, folks.
Familiar characters, such as Holmes, Watson and Inspector Lestrade are presented in slightly animated frames. Their movements — mainly limited to lips — offer less sophistication than a Clutch Cargo cartoon.
However, the nearly photorealistic environments used in the map and the rooms look pretty good. The storybook-quality surroundings are accompanied by slightly frenetic, violin-heavy chamber music.
The game is also not Clue. All it takes to solve a case is completing a series of the puzzles in the required amount of time and then watching the mystery unravel as suspects are revealed and eventually pared down via a memory test.
In a typical case, the player chooses a book from a shelf, such as the intriguingly titled "The Purloined Painting" or "The Mystery of the Billiards Blackmailer," selects the place to visit on a 3-D map of London and begins the process of deduction.
Players get a set amount of time to go on a pair of major explorations. First, it's spot the differences between two locations loaded with items. Next, the player tries a session of "I Spy" in which a set of items is more cleverly hidden in a larger space. (Forget about the random clicking strategy, it eventually means a time penalty.)
While exploring, the player can use a magnifying glass to enlarge tight areas, discover pipes that offer tips to an item's location and even skip one of the minigames, although more time is deducted.
Extra minigames include cryptograms, matching challenges and jigsaw puzzles. Certain items, such as a locked box, might require the correct sequence of tumblers to open or a collar with broken jewel pieces must be fit together.
After a quick return to Holmes' headquarters at 221B Baker St., the player categorizes suspects via a trading-card-style presentation and then isolates evidence and the criminal via a Concentration-type game.
Going through the cases a second time, puzzle elements do change and replayability is helped as players try to find all 16 of Holmes' deerstalker caps to unlock another game in his laboratory.
Learning time: Exercising the brain with this type of progressively more difficult observational puzzle certainly is worth a player's effort.
Crimes occur in actual locations such as the British Museum and Big Ben. How hard would it be to include a bit of historical background on the locations?
Also, considering the game is officially licensed by the Conan Doyle Estate, how about a biography of the famed author to unlock or a look at some passages from actual Sherlock Holmes books?
Age range: Although the puzzles get a bit repetitive, it should be a real treat for less-experienced 8- to 12-year-old gamers, especially if parents explain the lore behind Sherlock Holmes. Adults will appreciate the later, more difficult levels.
Final advice:The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes is priced right, difficult enough for amateur sleuths and worthy of investigation.
Here's an abbreviated look at some multimedia items for the entire family:
Backyard Baseball '09 (for Wii, Humongous Entertainment, $39.99) — The youngest of sports fans can appreciate America's pastime with the seventh edition of this perennial peewee- friendly baseball game.
Equipped for Nintendo's interactive console, the cartoony arcade-style simulation for one or two players mixes kiddie versions of stars from Major League teams, including the New York Yankees' Derek Jeter and the Boston Red Sox's David Ortiz, with the familiar Backyard Kids gang.
Modes include pickup and all-star games, season (16 or 32 games), an eight-bracket tournament and even a home-run derby. By the way, a Babe Ruth character can be unlocked.
The game offers options found in older siblings' games, including changing the batting order, trading players, plenty of statistics and pitcher stamina, but they will not overwhelm the new player.
A simple flick of the Wiimote swings the bat or pitches the ball and the Nunchuk moves players around and enacts crazy powerups (of the disappearing or slimy ball variety) for the batter and pitcher.
Additionally, large fields allow for plenty of high-scoring games and parks near an active volcano or infested with UFOs add to Backyard Baseball's charm.
Top Spin 3 (for Wii, 2K Sports $49.99) — Serious tennis fans using Nintendo's magical motion-sensing console are in for a treat with the latest release devoted to the Top Spin franchise.
Up to four players become part of the professional tennis circuit as they wield a Wiimote as a racquet and smash, slice and volley their way to wins.
Sixteen current stars led by Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova are available and can meet in 10 real venues with varied surfaces for traditional singles and doubles matches.
In addition to the Wiimote, the Nunchuk is used to move the player around the court, initiate serves and steer the direction of the ball. It can be a tricky proposition: My hands often became tangled in the cord tethering the controllers when trying to execute a game-winning backhand.
Although there is no real career or create-a-player options or online support, eight types of events are available in the Road to Glory mode, culminating with a 16-player tournament.
The game's seriousness even extends to the Party games, with winning determined at the statistics level (from least number of unforced errors to most points scored at the net).
Older gamers should be aware that full matches could be workouts and exhaust shoulder and wrists muscles.
Joseph Szadkowski's ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to jszadkowski@ washingtontimes.com.