- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 31, 2009

Children interact among legendary archives and meet some of history’s greatest individuals in Night at the Museum, Battle of the Smithsonian (Majesco Entertainment for Xbox 360, $39.99). Inspired by the current movie, the game offers educational opportunities disguised as an action platformer for younger audiences.

The game features the voice and “likeness” of the film’s star, Ben Stiller - the cartoony representation of Mr. Stiller’s character, Larry Daley, looks about as much like the comedian as I look like Brad Pitt.

The player mainly controls Larry as he tries to keep Egyptian ruler Kahmunrah and his heinous henchmen - Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon and Al Capone - from controlling a magic tablet that not only brings museum relics to life, but also can take over the world.

Larry must collect nine ingots and control the tablet to succeed. The player begins in New York’s Natural History Museum and eventually works through most of the Smithsonian buildings, ending up at the Lincoln Memorial.

As he moves, jumps, swings and slides from nicely detailed re-creations of exhibit locations such as the Air and Space Museum, he will find a continuous scavenger hunt before him. In each of the six levels, collecting complete sets of gum wrappers, dinosaur bones, wrenches and the like offers awards viewed in the Smithsonian Castle. Or grab coins and tokens to unlock a load of stuff including concept art and game development clips.

Larry uses a retractable key chain that works like a whip and a trusty flashlight to explore and avoid bad guys such as barbarians and Napoleon’s bayonet-wielding stuffed soldiers. As Larry discovers ingots, each grants him special powers, such as allowing his flashlight to tap into the Eye of Hours and glow to reveal secret items or summoning bolts of lightning.

More outrageous, he can bring paintings to life and control animals such as Anubis statues to put together a massive temple puzzle.

It’s worth mentioning that Larry never dies, even if thugs defeat him. He just crumples to the ground like someone who ate too many bean-and-cheese burritos.

Bunches of fun moments throughout will give the child a laugh, including riding Rexy the T-Rex around the New York museum, bringing “The Thinker” to life to take out some evil minions, controlling the action-figure-sized Octavius as he navigates a vending machine and helping Amelia Earhart pilot a Pitcairn Autogyro.

The bad news is the game’s length. An ambitious 8-year-old will plow through the adventure in just slightly longer than it took for him to see the movie (including drive time to and from the theater). Thanks to the richness of the collectibles and extras, however, there will be plenty of time to learn about history.

The first bright spot is the dozens of audio tours found throughout the presentation rooms. With narration averaging 60 seconds, junior gets a brief introduction to the likes of Benjamin Franklin, Impressionism and the lunar rover.

Next, the player can buy nearly 100 factoid cards that feature a photo and chunk of text on famous exhibit items such as a Boeing 747, Yorick (a bionic skeleton loaded with electrical and mechanical body parts) and the C202 Folgore fighter plane.

Also, more facts are revealed through the load screens. Who knew right whales weigh close to 2,000 pounds at birth?

To reinforce all of the historical information, one of three minigames offers a multiple-choice trivia challenge that allows the player to win more tokens and buy stuff.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian slightly rises above licensed movie game fodder thanks to the blending of action and teaching.

* 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@washington times.com.

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