- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 3, 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.

A letter-learning adventure awaits children as they journey into Zoboomafoo: Animal Alphabet. Based on the PBS children's show, this creature-filled, fast-paced experience takes youngsters 3 and older into Zobooland with the help of creators Chris and Martin Kratt and that "little leaping lemur" Zoboo.

The program requires knowledge seekers to find all 26 animals hiding around the Animal Junction ClubHouse while enjoying the antics of Zoboo a stalwart on the TV show that appears as a real, furry fellow, a realistic-looking puppet and in animated form.

As children click on different critters, they earn a new animal letter page for their creature adventure photo album and scrapbook, and discover eight interactive games, printable coloring pages, songs featured on the show, and lots of animal videos.

For example, click on the greyhound and earn the "D" for dog page and watch as the Kratt brothers romp with some long-eared bloodhound puppies. Also, learn that dogs have lived with people for more than 12,000 years and that their closest animal relative is the wolf.

Not all the animals revealed are domestic. Click on furry little guy in a basket for the letter "K" and learn about the kinkajou, a Central and South American relative of the raccoon. Before players earn the letter page, they first play a neat spelling game with Zoboo.

On another level of challenges, players must find the correct missing letter for an animal name. Those who finish them all get to watch a video of Martin and Chris falling into a mud hole.

Other games include Penguin Pong, which challenges players to bounce ice cubes off the penguin's beak to break blocks of ice and answer animal riddles, and Alphabet Noodles, which features the wacky parrot Wiggy Waxwing. In this game, players must listen closely to the phonetic sound and pick the correct alphabet noodle three times to watch Wiggy do a wild waltz.

A wonderful bonus is the 26 animal flash cards that can be printed out and colored for continued learning away from the computer. And when done playing the game, don't send junior away too quickly. Following the credits is a cute little "mangatsika" (or surprise) that will bring a final smile to everyone enjoying this slick software.

Zoboomafoo: Animal Alphabet, The Learning Company, $19.99; cross-compatible with Macintosh and PC systems.
Zoombini's Logical Journey, for children 8 and older, tests math skills as the child uses algebra, logical reasoning, pattern finding and statistical thinking to help a species of little creatures find a new homeland.

And, please do not confuse the Zoombini with Zoboo. Zoombinis are cool, blue, bouncing, walking or skating folks who need help to find a new Zoombini Utopia after they lose their island to the diabolical Bloats.

Unlike some other math programs, the CD does not require users to memorize numbers or equations. Instead, it combines captivating animated action with sometimes perplexing puzzles to finely hone the math mind.

The game begins with the creation of a band of Zoombini by mixing and matching four different hairstyles, eye types, nose colors and bodies. Though not at first evident to the player, this step is very important as the series of 12 math-based logic and reasoning puzzles to follow require that the player be able to sort Zoombini by their individual characteristics.

So, for example, to pass a Zoombini over the bridges of the Allergic Cliffs, the player must examine his band of travelers to determine which characteristics cause the cliffs to "sneeze." Five sneezes and the bridges fall, making it impossible for more blue dudes to cross over.

Keeping the game fresh and challenging are four skill levels and a puzzle reformulation feature that creates a new adventure with each game. Additionally, the rescuer will find plenty of printable activities including dominoes, Zoombini bingo, guessing games and logic activities.

As an added bonus, the package includes a pack of Zoombini playing cards that can be used just like a regular deck. The difference is each card also contains an inspiring quote, one of 20 puzzles or a colorful Zoombini character drawing.

Zoombini's Logical Journey, The Learning Company, $24.99; cross-compatible with Macintosh and PC systems.

Two hot

Take a look at these multimedia entertainment items:

mPeter Pan in Return to Neverland, from Sony for PlayStation, $39.99. The boy who refused to grow up is nearing his 50th anniversary at Disney with a new movie and an enjoyable, pseudo-3-D, side-scrolling game touting his latest adventures.

The player takes on the role of Peter and occasionally Tinker Bell while running, jumping, walking and mostly flying through 20 levels filled with flora, pirates, secret coves and annoying gulls. Peter gets some help from local Indians, if he collects enough feathers, as he attempts to find the Lost Boys and stop Captain Hook from stealing a Neverland treasure. This delightful mix of film clips, puzzles and action should satisfy any of the younger pixies in the family.

mAtlantis: The Lost Empire, from Disney Home Entertainment, for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment systems, $39.99. Disney overwhelms junior filmmakers with a two-disk set paying homage to one of its more average animated efforts.

"Atlantis" is not a bad cartoon, just not as groundbreaking as "Snow White" or "Dinosaurs." The undersea adventure takes viewers on a quest to find the mythical lost city along with a band of mercenaries and a bumbling archaeologist.

Within the story, lead explorer Milo Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox) must stop the plans of venture capitalist Commander Rourke (nastily brought to life by James Garner) and ultimately save a forgotten civilization.

What really caught my eye can be found in the multiple hours of extras. Besides the obligatory detailed dissections of the film, I found bonuses such as a look at the theories surrounding Atlantis, a tour of the 3-D environment of the Ulysses submarine, and a feature on "how to speak Atlantean" developed by the same guy who created the "Star Trek" Klingon lexicon.

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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