- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 19, 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.

Introducing today's plugged-in child to classic literature can become a daunting task, but a slick CD-ROM program might make it a little easier. Robinson Crusoe takes Daniel Defoe's 1719 novel to the computer screen as an interactive wonderland of adventure for children 8 and older.

The player controls the sole survivor of a shipwreck who has landed on the shores of a hostile, deserted environment, the Island of Despair.

The centerpiece of the title is the interactive book that contains text, audio, video and gaming components. The text, though abbreviated, is rich with the feel of Defoe's classic tale. Players can choose to read the story or have it narrated by British actor Martin Jarvis. The work is beautifully illustrated with pictures that come to life with animations showing a "live" actor against illustrated backgrounds.

As they read, players are challenged through "hunt, point, click and drag" action to help Crusoe accomplish tasks such as returning to the ship to gather the tools and wood needed to make a raft that will allow him to salvage more items for the story to continue.

Sketch drawings in the book provide hints on how to accomplish these tasks and, once the player is successful, open up new tasks and locations on the island.

Tivola has programmed the island to feature nine different locations touching on key narratives of the literary work Crusoe building shelter, salvaging the wrecked ship, surviving illness, growing grains, making bread, hunting for food, avoiding cannibals, surviving natural disasters and, finally, escaping the island.

The different areas of the island are accessed via corresponding text in the book or from the map at the bottom margin of the book. As more tasks are accomplished and the reader advances, the island map becomes more detailed, showing the player beautifully drawn 360-degree panoramic settings to explore.

The program's sound effects and music are varied with the noises of the island and the sea popping up throughout.

Navigating the island, the sea and the ship to complete the tasks while stepping into the story and becoming Robinson Crusoe is an adventure that should please any family member ready to use some serious concentration and logic to succeed.

Robinson Crusoe, Tivola, $19.99. Cross-compatible with Macintosh and PC systems.

Three for all

Here are three multimedia entertainment items to sample.

mMad Maestro, from Eidos, for PlayStation 2, $49.99. The stress-filled but aesthetic world of symphony conducting comes to the gaming community in a wonderful simulation filled with classic music and epic performances.

As Takt, the ebullient director of the Bravo Youth Orchestra, the player must use a keen sense of rhythm and finesse to save the town concert hall by soothing the populace with an eclectic mix of tunes.

Following dot-designed configurations on the screen, the player must hit controller buttons to emphasize a rhythmic stroke, punctuate a louder passage and highlight an instrument. Young conductors can participate through a setting that allows them to simply match tempos and not worry about the more intense finger fumbling.

I admit the story and action can frustrate as the player may be too busy watching dots to enjoy the background shenanigans. But any game that allows junior to blast Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner and Tchaikovsky from the home entertainment speakers is a breath of fresh air in a gaming world filled with death metal or hip-hop headache-inducing soundtracks.

mYour Trading Card Maker, from Enteractive, cross-compatible with Macintosh and PC systems, $29.99. Parents looking for a quick way to immortalize their young sports star now can churn out a collectible that Topps would envy. Through a piece of handy software, "patented" paper and a color printer, computer users can custom design a slick set of keepsakes in minutes.

The program incorporates a simple-to-use interface that duplicates the trading card format familiar to most sports hobbyists. Users type in vital statistics and can choose from an average of four front and back motifs in sports such as hockey, soccer, basketball, football and baseball.

The package comes with enough paper to print 10 cards and information on how to go to a Web site to buy more material to print another batch ($19.95 for 10 sheets to print 20 cards).

Although a nice idea, Enteractive faces a few hurdles that don't bode well for its software. Besides individual printer variables that can make a card look amazing or really pathetic, the software faces some stiff competition on the Internet. Numerous companies offer this type of service for about a $1 a card, and all parents need to do is send a photo; they don't have to deal with trying to become digital photography wizards.

mTiger Woods PGA Tour 2002, from Electronic Arts, for PlayStation 2, $49.99. Players addicted to sinking a dimpled ball into a 4.25-inch hole can issue a challenge to become the current king of the fairway through the most realistic golf simulation ever developed for the home console entertainment system.

Improving on the PGA Tour video game franchise, the challenge offers an all-new game engine for its 3-D world, the ability to play seven courses against or as pros and amateurs, a mode in which the golfer is placed in competitive scenarios and a way to practice by dropping the ball anywhere on a course.

Even players in a hurry can enjoy the gaming experience with a split-screen simulation of speed golf in which two friends must battle to collect the most cash by winning holes.

Overall, Tiger Woods lends his name to a demanding video game to match his real-world exploits.

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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