- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2000

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

Extinct beasts battle one another to teach logic and creativity within the Dinosaur Activity Center (Disney Interactive, $29.99).

Based on the blockbuster Walt Disney animated extravaganza "Dinosaur," the game-packed title features familiar characters and images from the movie and original voice talent.

Players 5 years old and older sign in and meet the iguanodon Aladar and his friends as they introduce activities that continually get tougher. Offering seemingly unlimited hours of play, the games do not come with just the standard easy, medium and hard settings. Constantly conquer any challenge, and it can get up to 25 times more difficult, leading to hundreds of levels of action.

Three arcade-style games, Stegosaurus Spelunker, Lemur Love Match and a personal favorite, Iguanodon Pond-a-Thon, quickly get players thinking.

That game begins as children simply connect the specks by using the keyboard arrows to move Baylene the brachiosaur or Eema the styrachosaur. As the dinos scurry from dot to dot creating squares and earning points, players need to be aware of mudhole hazards that will slow them down. A dinosaur cannot walk over an already complete line, lest the player lose points already earned.

Much like the Disney feature films, each game tries to include a little bit of humor only an adult can appreciate. In Lemur Love Match, players use some quick hand-eye coordination in pairing quickly appearing and disappearing flowers hanging from vines while listening to some silly "Dating Game" music.

Find matches for all the flowers, and a pair of lemurs are jettisoned off to the upper boughs of the tree for a fantasy date as the host, Chuck Scarborough, tells us a little bit about the happy couple.

While most of the announcer's descriptions are just for fun, players learn a few lemur facts.

The last arcade title, Stegosaurus Spelunker, has Aladar check into a dark cave to try to escape the carnivores.

In this rock-busting, Tetris-like permutation, players strategically bounce a rock off the cave walls into other rocks, making them disappear.

One well-done reasoning game in the mix, Colossal Fossil Face Off, combines the strategy of Stratego with the fun of a prehistoric game of Battleship as carnivores and herbivores face off. Playing against the carnivorous computer, the player wants to find the egg the meat eaters have stolen and hidden while protecting the nest of the peaceful plant munchers.

Dinosaurs move forward on a checkerboard-type layout until they come face to face and do battle. Some dinosaurs are equipped with a comet to help them vanquish their opponent, and others have protective shields.

Beating Colossal Fossil Face Off rewards the player with a Dinosaur Fact Card that can be printed out or just collected on screen.

Finally, Disney gives children a chance to develop some paleontological skills with the Line o' Dinos puzzle maker. The activity allows youngsters to create their own dinosaur by mixing and matching parts and then record and play back a personalized dinosaur roar (on computers equipped with a microphone). The dinosaur then can be turned into a puzzle and e-mailed to friends.

Dinosaur Activity Center (Disney Interactive, $29.99.). Hybrid for Macintosh and Windows 95/98 systems.

In my family, that bear in the big blue house and his pals are welcome friends, so loading Bear's Imagine That (Knowledge Adventure, $20) became an unforgettable event filled with smiles.

Three- to 6-year-olds will love the slick 3-D graphics and live-action video sequences that perfectly mirror the "Bear in the Big Blue House" television program. Parents will appreciate the numerous printable pages that offer plenty of opportunity for hands-on creativity away from the computer.

As he does at the beginning of every show, Bear greets visitors entering his dwelling with a familiar sniff, pronouncing that he smells "a friend and crayons." Children then explore the house to find plenty of characters and activities.

For example, follow Ojo up to the attic to find Bear building things. Bear invites Ojo and his guests to help turn everyday items such as oatmeal containers and saltine boxes into works of art. Children can choose to work either within a directed play mode using an existing plan or build a free-form sculpture using the items on Bear's workbench.

Music lovers get to help the otters Pip and Pop perform a series of songs. Tunes are chosen based on selecting rhyming words and can be performed karaoke style with the characters.

Treelo the squirrel also stops by the Big Blue House, and preschoolers can help him design and read printable storybooks. The tales can come to life through a child's narration with a microphone hooked up to the computer.

The best activity, however, is helping Tutter the mouse and Ojo make sundaes with a variety of ingredients. Besides learning shape, color and number recognition, junior chefs can take their new skills into mom's kitchen for an afternoon of messy fun.

Bear's Imagine That (Knowledge Adventure for Windows 95/98. $20.) For Windows 95/98 system.

Double delight

Here are two multimedia entertainment items for children 5 years old and older that may guarantee moments of merriment.

• Roadsters, by Titus (For Dreamcast, $49.99) Video-game driving simulations are more prevalent these days than Elvis sightings, so I have a few words for developers: Take your time creating the product. This arcade-style racer offered enormous potential. Featuring 30 of the more exotic, two-seat convertible coupes, such as an Alfa Romeo Giula Sport; a gantlet of natural disasters to maneuver through; and active pit stops; and this game could have been a contender.

Unfortunately, short tracks, unspectacular graphics and game slow-downs really kill the title. Roadsters warrants a rental at best for beginners trying to test their driving skills.

• WuvLuvs by Trendmasters (Stand alone toy, 4 AA batteries required, $29.99) Thanks to computer chips and the marvels of technology, toys have become incredibly interactive friends for children. A new pal that could be considered the plush cousin of the Furby has heated up toy shelves around the country. The WuvLuv reminds me of a mutation of Grimace (Ronald McDonald's milkshake-loving purple blob of a buddy) and a Teletubby. When first activated, the creature spits out a colorful egg that contains a baby WuvLuv. Parent and offspring bond verbally and soon are singing the alphabet or "Itsy Bitsy Spider" to one another. Children can pet the creatures or croon to them to get a reaction. This may fall under the category of "what will they think of next."

ROMper Room is a column devoted to finding the best of multimedia edutainment. Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail ([email protected]).

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