- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2001

In a world of violent 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.

Thomas and Friends Railway Adventures lets engineers 3 years old and older drive the famous train throughout the Island of Sodor to complete a series of tasks, uncover surprises, earn certificates and reap the praise of Sir Topham Hatt.

More than just a typical CD-ROM game, Railway Adventures comes packaged with a small, box-size keyboard layover or "playset" that puts children behind the controls and allows them to maneuver Thomas by pulling or pressing colorful gadgets.

The island's four stations and countryside are rendered beautifully in crisp 3-D graphics and often are shown from Thomas' perspective.

The playset throttle allows the player to move Thomas forward or back while controlling his speed. At faster clips, the island flies by in a blur, requiring players to slow down if they want to enjoy the view and be able to read the signals, signposts and red flags along the track.

The real fun begins at the Engine Shed, where children choose which game to play by sending Thomas toward the tunnels. Or players can simply take off down the track, finding games and activities along the way as they drive around the island.

"Railway Adventures" features four fun skill-building challenges that can keep older engineers busy and provide plenty of interaction between parent and child.

In one game, toddlers will quickly master the phrase "all aboard" as Thomas and his coaches pick up passengers stranded by a broken Bertie the Bus. As passengers step up to the ticket counter and request their destinations, the child moves the playset's action lever toward the destination station and then uses the throttle's forward motion to print the desired number of tickets.

Another fun game is the Missing Mail Truck. In this multiple-level task, Devious Diesel has hidden a truck full of mail. Once located, the truck must be returned to the delivery bay, and the mail must be sorted into freight cars pulled by Percy, Gordon and James.

The more complicated Landslide game features Percy, who is unable to deliver a load of coal because of track damage. The player helps Thomas work with other trains and Harold the Helicopter replace stones that have fallen from the hillside. While working, the player must not only deliver stones, but also retrieve new track pieces from the Iron Yard, where Cranky the Crane loads the track. Players also must watch Thomas' water gauge, filling his boiler as necessary.

This series of complex actions makes the game challenging for older children but still fun for the younger ones to watch as they cheer on their favorite engines.

As tasks are completed, four minigames become available, including the Great Race, which replays a classic Thomas tale as Thomas and Bertie take off on a road-and-rail competition.

Additionally, children can return to Sir Topham Hatt's office, where they will find pictures from each of the four adventures, along with the certificates they have earned. The certificates are ready to print and color away from the computer.

One note of caution: The playset must be positioned correctly on the keyboard to work. This tip should save a bit of grief as parents begin the Thomas computer journey.

Thomas and Friends Railway Adventures (Infogrames, $39.99) Compatible with latest Windows operating systems.

ROMper Room is a column devoted to finding the best of multi-media 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 (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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