- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 5, 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.

The creators of such classic characters as Freddy the Fish and Pajama Sam stretch their imagination with a new company and offer a clever story featuring a round ball of blue clay.

Ollo in the Sunny Valley Fair gives the whole family a chance to meet a host of helpful friends as the sphere-shaped Ollo helps Rose the Raccoon grow and then capture a renegade, gargantuan tomato in hopes of winning the grand prize at the big fair.

The game features 28 robust locations within six chapters of fun. Players will journey from Ollo's house and shed to Wally the Owl's house and Farmer Franklin's barn. Along the way, they will find a variety of original songs, problem-solving puzzles and educational hot points.

Children 3 and older will use early logic skills as they search for items needed to complete tasks. For example, one of the first challenges is to help Rose find her missing rake and watering can. She also needs a specific tomato seed Red Thunder.

As a parent, I found many reasons to really like this program. The quirky design style that combines claymation and computer animations onto a variety of multitextured backgrounds really stands out from the standard children's CD-ROM fare. Another learning bonus is that every scene has something new to explore, not only providing a lesson, but also a great way to interact with a child, helping him with communicating and storytelling.

These "cause and effect" concepts range from turning on lights, to going under and over, to lifting objects up and down. The story narrator helps reinforce these lessons by calling out the colors of flowers that pop out or saying "on/off" as light switches are clicked.

As children continue through the story chapters finding objects and solving problems and puzzles, they earn marbles that, when the game is completed, allow them to build and play their own rollicking pinball simulation.

Ollo in the Sunny Valley Fair, Plaid Banana Entertainment, $19.99, cross-compatible with Macintosh and PC systems.

Younger dinosaur lovers in the family will get an earful with the Geosafari Dino Sound Station. Players 3 and older lay out the 21-by-40-inch vinyl play mat and, with the touch of a hand-held controller that looks like a volcano, bring the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods to life.

As the child touches various parts of the mat, more than 60 prehistoric sounds are heard. They range from a triceratops bellowing at a rampaging tyrannosaurus rex to a pteranodon squawking while surveying the landscape to storm clouds unleashing thunder claps.

The set comes with four plastic figures tyrannosaurus, stegosaurus, edmontosaurus and apatosaurus and a paper leaflet describing all of the animals seen with helpful pronunciations.

I found the paper insert useful, but it should have been more durable paper can get destroyed quickly in a household with a child. Additionally, it would have been nice to have had more dinosaurs for junior to hold and interact with; four mighty beast just does not afford enough creative opportunities.

Geosafari Dino Sound Station, Educational Insights, $35.99, two AA batteries required for operation.

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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