- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2001

In a world of ultraviolent video games, where dexterity of the thumb and index finger is infinitely more important than the flexing of 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.

Kid Pix Deluxe 3 (Broderbund, $29.95) offers an inexpensive and engaging way to help children, 4 years and older, explore their inner artist through a fantastic, virtual paint program.

The latest version of this top-selling educational art program, developed by artist-photographer turned programmer Craig Hickman almost 10 years ago, delivers a full palette of art elements to inspire.

These include tools such as spray paints, markers, crayons, brushes, chalk, pencils, 2,500 rubber stamps, 600 stickers and 84 "Wacky Brushes" that use such new ways to apply color to paper as the three-dimensional effects of the "toothpaste" tube or shaded clouds.

Special effects, such as morphing photos, are even available through the Electric Mixer icon, which allows creators to manipulate an image, making it look like a dog is swimming underwater or that someone's hair is growing out of control.

Any time artists do not like a result, they can erase everything with one of 15 "wacky" erasers, or use "undo" Bob, a little baldheaded guy who, when clicked, reverts back to the last effect applied.

The whole page can also be cleared with the toss of the firecracker that explodes and leaves a clean page. Of course, if you toss that firecracker accidentally, click "undo" Bob to get it all back.

When children add sound or animation elements to their artwork, a button appears that, when pressed, brings their piece to life. A text feature allows creators to add subtitles and captions or to diagram an image being used for a school report.

A slide-show option will string together a series of images (which can be imported), such as photos from a recent vacation or school play, to which users can add text, sound, stickers, word balloons and other effects.

Additionally, pictures can be created upon one of the more than 200 ready-made backgrounds from desert oasis to cowboy's mountain range. Artists can also create and color their own unique background using either a blank page or one of more than 20 visual paper textures.

Other effects include 110 clips of music from classical to country. Pictures with sound can be further enhanced with animated elements that, when turned on, begin walking, dancing, swimming and hopping around.

What helps Kid Pix Deluxe 3 stand out is not just the hundreds of picture starter elements and simple craft projects, but a "Little Kids Mode" to further simplify the program.

Revolutionary to the latest Kid Pix is "Sound Art," an effect that turns a user's spoken giggle into a squiggle allowing users to create unique works around their speaking or singing voice with the enclosed microphone.

Anything done with the program can then be shared, either printed or sent via e-mail, with friends and family.

• Kid Pix Deluxe 3 (Broderbund, $29.95). Hybrid for Macintosh and Windows systems.

Author Marc Brown's favorite aardvark speeds to the home console gaming system through Arthur! Ready to Race (The Learning Co., $19.99).

Four- to 7-year-olds will first enjoy a three-dimensional Arthur and his friends discussing what they are going to do as they prepare to participate in the Elmwood City Boxcar races.

Game play begins with Arthur and his sister D.W. finding an old racer in need of new paint and parts. Through completing a series of four activities Muffy's Garden Challenge, Baby Kate's Library Chase, Cemetery Search and Pal's Chase players collect Bionic Bunny Cards, coins and car parts to help Arthur build the ultimate soapbox vehicle.

Following a jaunt down the practice trail within a stripped-down racer, players then walk around Elmwood City looking for different activities, each of which, when successfully completed, result in upgrades for their car.

Each game requires simple controller moves using the directional pad and, in order to complete a task such as picking up the tomatoes in Muffy's garden, the "X" button.

Once tasks are successfully completed, the child will have collected enough parts to build a faster racer and compete in the qualifying level to go on to the Championship Derby.

Players can then choose to race on their own or can compete with up to three friends in multiplayer mode.

Visuals are cartoony, and games are definitely demanding enough for tykes. Unfortunately, the real challenge comes in waiting around for the title to load each time a new activity or race is selected.

• Arthur! Ready to Race (The Learning Co., $19.99). For PlayStation game console.

Double delight

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

• "Ultra Pinball: Thrill Ride," by Sierra (For Game Boy Color, $29.99) I cannot quite get the fascination with playing a video game involving controlling characters within the confines of a miniscreen. But I consider pinball a perfect time waster to enjoy with the limited capabilities of the popular Color Game Boy hand-held system.

Sierra delivers a title offering one table with 10 minitables using amusement park themes as a backdrop. All the familiar components of a traditional pinball exist, including bumpers, spinners, multiballs and ramps as up to four players compete while maneuvering through SooperDooperLoopers and the Canyon River Rapids.

The more adventuresome types in the family will pop the AAA battery into the cartridge to get a "Rumble Effect" while pounding on the flippers and colliding with the bumpers.

The price point seems a bit steep, but Ultra Pinball makes the perfect companion for a long car ride or plane flight.

• "Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure" by Buena Vista Home Entertainment (For DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, $29.99) Disney's direct releases to the home entertainment market have proven popular with sequels to such hits as "The Lion King," "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin." So why not try an extension to a classic tale of canines, from opposite sides of the tracks, falling in love.

Those lovable pooches, Lady and Tramp, return after a 45-year hiatus with a story featuring one of their mischievous offspring, Scamp. This little fellow wants to explore the world and becomes the rebel of the family by joining up with the Junkyard Dogs and a pretty pup named Angel.

Life gets a bit complicated when he must strike a balance between independence and a love of friends and family.

It's hard-core Disney with original songs and excellent animation filling the 60-minute effort.

The digital video disk not only displays crystal-clear color and images on TV and computer screens, but three extras. Users can access Uncle Walt's cartoon library with three memorable efforts from the 1940s featuring Pluto; Tramp's Hide and Seek game, which gives the whole clan a chance to help Tramp find his son and the Junkyard Dogs; and a documentary on the making of the film.

Families that fall in love with the digital video disk presentation can also click over to the official Web site to find screen savers and a well-done, virtual storybook chronicling the new adventure.

ROMper Room is a column devoted to finding the best of multimedia "edutainment." Calls, letters or faxes about a particular column or suggestions for future columns are always welcome. 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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