- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 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.
Clifford the Big Red Dog and his spunky human partner, Emily Elizabeth, have been entertaining and teaching children for more than 37 years.
In his latest ROM release, Clifford the Big Red Dog: Thinking Adventures, (Scholastic, $19.95) children can join in on the oversized canine's birthday party hi-jinks.
Working through three levels and 18 entertaining activities, 4- to 6-year-olds explore problem-solving, logic, memory and matching skills and learn to follow directions as they help Emily Elizabeth prepare for the big day.
The cartoonish creation uses a map to help direct the player in the quest to get everything done in time. While tasks may seem simple, walking around with the clumsy Clifford always creates a little chaos as the player must also help repair the unintentional damage caused by the mutt.
For example, children learn sorting and classifying skills after Clifford topples Mr. Hamburger's fruit and vegetable stand while ordering the birthday cake. Once the stand is repaired, players stretch their creativity using a simple paint-and-sticker program to design a baked masterpiece.
After the cake artistry, Clifford needs to look his best for the party. Helpers drag the mutt to Elroy Kibble's grooming area to soap, rinse and brush his hair before choosing a new style or fur color. The laugh potential is at its peak as one can create Clifford the Big Poofy-Haired Purple Dog.
Children can also take part in a fire drill that requires listening to the fire chief guide Clifford to the right place on the map or a soccer game to hone those spatial reasoning skills while having some sports fun.
The multidimensional Clifford even swims through the ocean, avoiding seaweed and eating energizing fish sticks to save his pal Rocky in another challenge.
While players are working through these activities, they must find the four jewels chosen at the beginning of the program for Clifford's special birthday collar.
Finally, much like other programs of this type, children can take photos of their adventures and creations, printing them out to create a personalized Clifford photo album.
Clifford the Big Red Dog: Thinking Adventures (Scholastic, $19.95) Hybrid for Macintosh and Windows systems.
Mia 2: Romaine's New Hat (Kutoka Interactive, $19.95) offers a dynamic, interactive, scientific adventure featuring a day in the life of a female skateboarding mouse.
Within this animated marvel, Mia loses her mother's new hat to the paws of Romaine the sinister sewer rat when it accidentally travels down into the sewer after a flash rain storm.
Through a player's active assistance, Mia must find enough "sparklies," or mouse currency, to buy her mother a new chapeau. Players will find sparklies along multiple paths guiding Mia to her home.
More sparklies can be earned by successfully completing a series of 12 science-based activities that feature lessons about plants and their parts, animals, weather and clouds, the solar system, Earth and human body science, the properties of matter, electricity, and magnetism.
A typical game involves association skills at Sam the Squirrel's tree house as 5- to 11-year-olds are challenged to match primates, reptiles and amphibians with their habitats.
While children work through Mia's world they will learn how to use levers, pulleys, an electromagnet and siphon, even how to repair an electrical circuit.
"Mia 2: Romaine's New Hat" is set within a 360-degree, 3-D active environment that she can walk, run, skateboard and climb through. The game acts like a movie with tasks so seamlessly integrated into the story line, children might not realize they are learning.
Some of the activities, particularly for the youngest of players, may be difficult even on the easiest setting, so mom and dad should stay around to assist. On-screen help is always available; simply click on Mia's head to retrieve a series of clues.
The adventure features 15 amusing characters and the story offers children a mouse's perspective on the large world around them. The two-disk effort provides hours of game play combining knowledge with lots of fun.
Mia 2: Romaine's New Hat (Kutoka Interactive, $19.95) Hybrid for Macintosh and Windows 95/98 systems.

Double delight

Here are two multimedia, entertainment items for children.
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer," by THQ (for Game Boy Color, $29.99) The Chosen One has selected the popular Nintendo hand-held game system to debut her historic struggle against those creatures of the night. Contained within a two-dimensional side-scrolling environment, Buffy Summers roams the streets and familiar areas of Sunnydale in search of friends and anything long of tooth. Once she finds the fiends, a quick signature kick, punch or chop and a stake to the heart extinguishes their anguish. The title offers mediocre game play at best but still, any family member looking for a Halloween treat will find satisfaction with this teen-age vampire hunter's exploits.
"The Nightmare Before Christmas" by Buena Vista Home Entertainment (For DVD-enabled computers or entertainment centers, $29.99) What started out as a twisted Tim Burton poem inspired by " 'Twas the Night before Christmas" became an instant masterpiece in 1993 showcasing the process of stop-motion animation. Now, families with a digital video disc player can relive the macabre hilarity through a special presentation. Rejoin Jack Skellington, Halloweentown's Pumpkin King, as his new fascination with improving on Santa's favorite holiday leads to mayhem around the world.
Not only is the 76-minute movie included, but also audio commentary by director Henry Selick, storyboard-to-film comparisons and more than 450 images of character sketches and concept art are crammed on the disk to give any budding animator in the family more than enough inspiration to make his dreams come true.
The disk also features two of Mr. Burton's directing efforts: the animated "Vincent," narrated by Vincent Price, a film that chronicles the amusing life of a young boy with an active imagination, and "Frankenweenie," which stars Shelley Duvall and demonstrates how the loss of a family pet can bring out the mad scientist in all of us.

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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