- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2008

In a world of violent video games, where thumb dexterity is infinitely more important than the flexing of the cerebrum, there’s a place for children and their parents to actually learn something from that multimedia computer/gaming system. Take a deep breath and enter the ROMper Room, where learning is a four-letter word - cool.

(Majesco, $39.99). Formerly for the PC, this game is now built for Nintendo’s magical Wii entertainment console, which means plenty of interactive, motion-sensor sessions with mighty beasts.

Up to four players are virtually transformed into photojournalists as they seek out encounters with members of the animal kingdom. Tour guides accompany the photographer and intelligently chat away about the animals encountered and offer tips as the photographer explores a lively representation of Serengeti National Park in Africa.

Through a first-person perspective, and armed with a camera, the player uses the Wiimote and Nunchuk controllers to move. He then uses a square viewfinder on the screen to frame, zoom in and snap (a clicking sound is heard in the tiny Wiimote’s speaker) an average of 40 images on any of the 11 assignments.

During their travels, photographers will encounter 30 species while looking for shots such as an elephant bathing its calf, a nest protected by a mommy ostrich, a couple of hyrax near a stream and an elusive euphorbia bush.

The graphics won’t dazzle, but it is realistic enough that it gave me motion sickness during some of the more frenzied encounters.

Getting too near the animals results in the always-present impact (on the environment) meter dropping into the red and ending a mission. Or, more exhilarating, having the player quickly turn and run away from the animal now in pursuit. (Watch out for the big cats and crocodiles.)

Under the educational department, the game constantly reminds players to respect wildlife. It also exposes them to the reality of living in the wild, including the death of creatures.

Next, players get an encyclopedic stream of information delivered by the guides - who knew an elephant has more than 100,000 muscles in its trunk?

Also, once a player successfully completes a photo assignment, his work appears in an article about the animal. It’s about nine pages long and filled with facts and pictures.

The action can even be set up as a cooperative outing, so mom or dad plays chauffeur as they drive a jeep while up to three kiddies take the pictures.

An extra level of fun is found in the 11 very Wii friendly minigames. Challenges include bonking meerkats in the noggin during a session similar to Whack-A-Mole (use the Wiimote like a hammer), kayak through a river inhabited by hippos (use the Wiimote as a paddle) and take flight through an obstacle course by commanding a vulture (flap the controllers to soar).

African Safari definitely will keep the 8- to 10-year old crowd entertained though missions that last about an hour each. It’s a worthy game for the Wii library.

Game Bytes

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

Myst (for DS, Empire Interactive, $29.99) - One of the most recognizable point-and-click puzzle games on the planet makes its debut on Nintendo’s hand-held console.

For the few folks who have never heard of it, Myst was a CD-based title for computer systems back in the early 1990s and was distinguished by its use of full-motion videos, photo-realistic environments and clever mechanical and written riddles.

Unfortunately, what made the game so visually appealing is a tough sell on 2.75-inch-wide screens, especially when the graphics are not so sharp.

Even the tools available for inspecting areas to solve the seemingly endless mystery are not very helpful. A magnifying glass zooms in on areas and items (some are still barely readable) while a notebook does not allow writing with the stylus pen (a natural element for the DS) but instead notes must be typed in. That’s just a Myst-ake.

Myst for the DS is a nostalgic ride at best. It’s too bad because the DS does offer more than enough technological punch to have made it a multigenerational experience.

Speed Racer: The Videogame (for Wii, Nintendo, $49.99) - A natural for the gaming console, this driving experience puts players in Tatsuo Yoshida’s famous universe and delivers, as the title suggests, high speeds and plenty of racing.

With a colorful, cartoony look close to the new Wachowski brothers’ “Speed Racer” film, the eye-popping visuals complement the frenetic action and ludicrously treacherous courses.

Competing within the World Racing League, one or two players choose from almost 20 characters’ vehicles - including Trixie’s pink TRX-Rod, a game exclusive - as they flip, jump, spin and drift their way to the finish line.

The frenzied pace of these slick Hot Wheels placed in roller-coaster-style tracks is enhanced by the use of Car-fu, stunt-filled attack maneuvers to get past fellow drivers.

The game also takes advantage of the Wii Wheel for an even more immersive experience.

Additionally, fans will find a DS version of Speed Racer: The Videogame ($29.99) that uses even better control of powerups and much more intense Car-fu encounters.

E-mail Joseph Szadkowski at jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.