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ROMper ROOM: Bob the Builder helps make learning fun

- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bob the Builder Can-Do Zoo (Brighter Minds Media and HIT Entertainment, $19.95) answers the question "Can we make learning fun?" with a loud "Yes, we can."

Travel to Bobland Bay where tykes 2 years old and older find Bob and his crew in the midst of a creature crisis. The animals for the new Bobland Bay Zoo have arrived, but the park has not been built. So, the monkeys are in the playground, the elephants are in the opera house and the lion is hanging out in the mayor's office.

The action starts with the child choosing from Muck, Roley or Scoop, and children will love that many of Bob's friends make an appearance in the game.

It has been quite a while since I ventured into Bob's universe, and there are quite a few new vehicle characters, including Packer the flatbed and Flex the cherry picker, both in Can-Do Zoo.

Game play expands over three levels. For the very young, Can-Do Zoo is great lapware for parent and child to explore together. Click the story and watch along as the narrator sets up the day's building dilemma.

Challenges often include a lesson in sequencing as children first figure out what's missing on Bob's zoo blueprint, dragging the pieces in order.

Spud comes in next, and, Spud being Spud, mixes up all the tools and leaves them on the floor. The challenge is to sort the tools by type or shape and color and clean up the mess Spud left behind.

More matching play ensues when children need to push away fallen leaves - perfect for the autumn season nearly upon us - to find the tool hidden beneath or when they have to help Lofty find the right signs for the zoo.

As a parent, I always liked pattern games, and Bob the Builder Can-Do Zoo does not disappoint with a fun pair. One has children painting the slats on a picket fence to complete the pattern while the other introduces Packer. Players must choose the right building supply from the ground to finish the pattern on Packer's flatbed.

Games played within the story mode allow children to follow along with the narrator, solving as problems need fixing, or as solo free-play, events. Each has three levels - easy, medium and hard - but games do not get significantly more difficult, just deeper. For example, on "easy" players match one animal shape while on "hard" they find the right match for four animals.

All of the action uses easy-to-understand verbal and visual cues. Additionally, once a task is complete, children receive stickers that can be applied to embellish the game's static environments and complete masterpieces with buildings, vehicles and tools.

Graphics and audio are comparable to the cartoon and young fans will appreciate the constructive possibilities of this newest addition to the Bob the Builder franchise.

Game Bytes

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

Active Life: Outdoor Challenge (for Nintendo's entertainment console.

A 3-foot-square touch-sensitive floor mat similar to the one used in Dance, Dance, Revolution is plugged into the console's port. Players employ its eight pressure points and sometimes a Wiimote to engage in 15 activities.

Timed, detailed training, specific courses and free play modes lead one or two gamers through cartoony adventures requiring a fairly coordinated effort to jump on the mat's spots to succeed.

Challenges include kayaking (the Wiimote is a paddle), sprinting, speed skating, trampoline bouncing, mountain boarding and log jumping. The most unusual, but very enjoyable, brings to life an Indiana Jones moment with a harrowing ride in a mining cart.

Two players cooperatively participate as they lift a foot and lean to the same side to keep the cart on a coasterlike track loaded with hairpin turns while one rider pumps away with the Wiimote to gain speed or points and shoots to clear debris off the course.

I also liked Stomp a Mole as the contestant hits the right spot on the mat to rain down some hurt on the fuzzy creatures.

The Mii-friendly Active Life presentation won't make players think they are in the middle of Yosemite, but their muscles and lungs should feel the burn after about 10 minutes of action.

Lock's Quest (for Nintendo DS, THQ, $29.99 ) - Craftsmanship is as mighty as the sword in a game that beautifully blends building with combat. The strategy-action game has a player take control of Lock, a budding "archineer" (skilled as both an engineer and architect) to help construct defenses around a kingdom under assault by Lord Agony and his mechanized minions.

In 100 battles played out over 18 environments, the pace is set by a timed phase of building fortresses, traps and weapons and then withstanding multiple waves of assaults by the robotic invaders.

If a player's fortifications falter, Lock can jump in for some controlled fighting where he can unleash special attacks and abilities.

Many of the tasks also require completing minigames, such as assembling a turret puzzle after finding all the pieces and using sliders and spinning gears to unleash a "vampire drain" or "acid touch" on enemies.

The DS' touch screen affords the perfect environment for this type of game. The stylus works well with the menu tool box to easily drag structures into position and quickly select items for use in the construction process.

A wireless mode is also a treat. Two opposing kingdoms (each player must have a cartridge) can build and send Agony's army out to destroy the other's creations.

The very enjoyable Lock's Quest offers cartoony graphics and a digestible learning curve for the younger players. Action is enhanced with a great musical score and the package even includes a mini comic book highlighting the hero through a Japanese art style.

• 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.