- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2002

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.

Caillou's Magic Playhouse brings familiar surroundings and friends from the award-winning PBS kids television show to the home computer. Our hairless 4-year-old friend has children hunting through his house looking for treasures, games and hot spots while they learn about life, "one adventure at a time."

The playhouse has four themes nature, sun and sand, music, and sports. Action starts as Caillou's parents go out, leaving Caillou and Rosie with their teen baby sitter, Julie.

As 2- to 6-year-olds explore with the pair, they must look for six specific treasures a frog, a snail, a squirrel, a clover, a ladybug and a flower. Once found, the player earns the right to view a special minimovie.

During the hunt, players stumble upon several activities, including the imaginative Building Block Toy Shop. At its easiest level, children are presented with three or four shapes that can be combined to create a toy. Once the blocks are together, a series of drawings appears so the player can choose the item that matches the shape of the block. Another game that will help with everyday item recognition, Silly Cloud Pictures, has the parent and child click on funny cloud shapes and watch them animate into objects and animals.

The obligatory matching activity can be found in the Socks and Butterfly Hunt. Rosie joins Caillou to match the striped, solid or polka-dot sock in the drawers with the ones on the side of the screen.

The music portion of the CD-ROM gets explored through Tap-the-Tunes as Julie plays a pattern of notes on the xylophone, encouraging the child to repeat the same pattern. Watching a child master this game is wonderfully rewarding. As the difficulty levels increase, so does the length of Julie's pattern.

Overall, the title stays very consistent with the show, plays well, but can drag a bit. Parents should familiarize themselves with the games prior to putting a child in their lap to play, however. The introductions to the individual activities are text-based and though they only take a moment to read, that is longer than a 2-year-old will want to sit still.

Caillou's Magic Playhouse, from the Learning Co., $19.99. Cross-compatible with Macintosh and PC systems.

Stanley: Tiger Tales, features a little fellow who loves animals and allows a child's quest for knowledge to run wild. Based on the Playhouse Disney animated series, Stanley introduces 3- to 6-year-olds to a world of critters with a bit of help from his fish, Dennis, and his massive monograph of knowledge, "The Great Big Book of Everything."

Stanley and Dennis go off on a bedroom-jungle hunt to find Theodore (his tiger swim tube), some animal stickers and a bunch of beach stuff so he can go on a trip with his mother and big brother, Lionel.

Stanley must rely on his imagination and help from Dennis to conquer challenges by learning about and using the abilities and traits of animals.

While children help Stanley explore through a series of eight activities, they also will be exposed to some early math, science and language arts skills along with valuable life lessons, such as responsibility and cleanliness.

Game play begins with the hunt for Stanley's gear in a typically cluttered 6-year-old's bedroom. Timed activities are started as children begin to solve problems through clicking on hot spots.

For example, Dennis prompts the child to find something in the room that would help Stanley be more like a giraffe. If the child picks the broom, they go automatically into an activity in which they must help the giraffe pick specific leaves, such as all the large green ones.

Once the beach stuff is found in the bedroom, children take off throughout the house, exploring the kitchen, dining room even in the back yard trying to find hidden animal stickers that contain clues to finding Theodore.

What makes Stanley Tiger Tales fun for parent and child can be found in the varied but recognizable action. Snakes at Stake is an animal-inspired version of the Chutes and Ladders board game while Crocodile Style challenges players to jump, a la Frogger, to cross a raging river.

In addition to the games, the CD-ROM will end up as junior's first reference resource with a virtual copy of "The Great Big Book of Everything" giving access to plenty of animal trivia and coloring pages.

Stanley: Tiger Tales, from Disney Interactive, $19.99. Cross-compatible with Macintosh and PC systems.

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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