- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 7, 2002

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.

A creepy compound, a damsel in distress and a healthy dose of science greet investigators as they journey through Bioscopia.

This two-disc puzzle-solving extravaganza gives children 12 years old and older the chance to liberate a young scientist trapped in a secret alpine laboratory by a group of evil robots.

In addition to being held captive, she has been exposed to gas laden with deadly germs. Her rescuer must have a basic knowledge of human biology, cell anatomy, genetics, zoology and botany as he or she roams a labyrinth of rooms and towers uncovering items needed to create an antidote.

The intriguing premise will remind the veteran gamer of the environment of Myst with a touch of the horror adventure Resident Evil in respect to the suspense, dramatic music and watching out for pesky droids (as opposed to zombies) who may be lurking around any corner.

An exhausting challenge awaits brave souls with plenty of time on their hands. The first-time player would be wise to begin exploration by tapping into the Brain Center, a databank housing plenty of information that will be useful in the game, such as the role of the small intestine, informatiion about breeding microorganisms and general facts about vertebrates.

Once the player is comfortably briefed, the story begins, and the gamer simply uses mouse movements and clicks to enter passageways, open drawers, engage machines and grab items necessary for the progression of the story. For example, some of my first tasks included entering a gatehouse, climbing a ladder and grabbing a key card for entry into other buildings.

The key card, which can be upgraded during the game, plays a prominent role. It must be recharged at various points to open doors and obtain vital information. The player will stumble upon Rube Goldberg-type machines that house quizzes containing five multiple-choice questions of varying degrees of difficulty. The player must retain information taught at the Brain Center, such as what happens during the fermentation process of lactic acid, the Latin name for humans, what proteins are made of and how deep a blue whale can dive.

A device that looks as if it would be at home in Las Vegas sneaks more science into the game. The player moves sliding levers to identify organisms and open a trapdoor, select books whose titles contain parts of a cell to access a secret room, and use chemical equations to reveal the contents of a safe.

Overall, I found the game as addictive as it was frustrating. It demands patience, logic and a natural curiosity. Scientific principles are explored in very dry presentations, however, and will not appeal to students who are unable to stay awake in biology class.

Bioscopia, from Tivola, $19.99; cross-compatible with Macintosh and PC systems.

Three to see

Check out these three multimedia entertainment items for children 5 years old and older:

RalliSport Challenge, from Microsoft Game Studios for Xbox, $49.99. This exciting racing simulation for Bill Gates' premier console entertainment center is filled with realism, a painless learning curve and plenty of action.

RalliSport features more than 25 licensed vehicles that can race on 45 different tracks in four modes. The lifelike intensity of the experience will make players sweat as they combat track conditions, their prized cars taking damage as they test the sound barrier crossing the finish line.

Although PlayStation's Gran Turismo franchise is more expansive and offers greater customization, RalliSport Challenge is still off to a great start.

Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, from Sega for GameCube, $49.99. The blue hedgehog that has been the exclusive mascot for Sega's gaming systems for more than a decade is branching out, spreading his frenetic mayhem to Nintendo's latest home-entertainment console.

This thoroughly enjoyable third-person action title, based on the Sega Dreamcast version, allows children the chance to save the world as a Hero (Sonic, Knuckles and Tails) or eliminate it by becoming a Dark character (Dr. Eggman, Shadow and Rouge). Through 150 missions spread over 30 stages, the fun moves at a high-speed clip and features plenty of rail grinding, ring collecting and battling.

Of course, the cuddly virtual Chao pets return for multiple minigame diversions. They reside on the screen or can be transported back and forth to a Game Boy Advance using a cable purchased for the hand-held unit.

Truck Adventures, from Warner Home Video for DVD-enabled computers and home-entertainment systems, $16.95. Dave Hoff returns in digital-video-disc format to mesmerize children with his unique explanations of giant vehicles.

Combining three episodes of the hugely popular "Real Wheels: There goes a " series, the title gives curious tykes a look at firetrucks, garbage trucks and the big rigs that transport and help build the world.

For more than 90 minutes, Dave demonstrates ladders that can reach up 10 stories, dissects the innards of a truck, highlights a vehicle that tows the space shuttle and talks about the finer points of trash collecting.

Bonus features include an interactive firetruck, a cool video glossary, a sing-along about a firetruck, and bloopers of Dave and the gang, which reinforce his image of a bumbling but lovable personality.

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, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail ([email protected]).

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