- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 10, 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.

One of the meanest predators alive is spotlighted in the early-learning title Stanley: Wild for Sharks. Based on the Playhouse Disney animated show, the CD-ROM title features a little boy, short on hair but always longing for adventure, as he roams the world of animals with help from his best buddy, Dennis the goldfish.

In this tale of woe, Stanley has created a shark model to show off at school but has lost the pieces, which are scattered all over his house. In addition to the pieces of the model, he must find some neat animal cards his pal Lester left with him.

Players 3 to 6 years old must help Stanley explore his house, inside and out, clicking on images to recover the pieces and cards and discover eight activities themed around inhabitants of the deep blue sea. Stanley's fishy friend bombards players with knowledge along the journey, spouting off about thrasher sharks, lizards and birds.

As Stanley finds a piece of the model, his imagination takes over and he is transformed into a creature and whisked away to a challenge. These can range from Stanley working his way through a maze as an octopus to the boy taking on the persona of a stingray to scoop up sharks' teeth for an introduction to numbers.

As Stanley finds trading cards while helping his mom sweep the floor and gather objects for recycling, the player unlocks more games. These include a mathematics lesson with turtles, a match game with complexly colored jellyfish and a weigh-off between sharks and whales.

Of course, Stanley's powerful educational resource, "The Great Big Book of Everything," is displayed prominently throughout and offers the player pictures, facts and printables about ocean animals.

As a nice option, the revered book also contains creatures from Stanley's first CD-ROM title, "Tiger Tales," making for the beginnings of a tidy encyclopedia on nature.

With a look that seamlessly mimics the popular cartoon, plenty of life lessons and skill-honing activities, Wild for Sharks will not disappoint parents or friends of Stanley.

Stanley: WIld for Sharks, by Disney Interactive, $19.99, Hybrid for PC or Macintosh systems.

Children return to a time of great warriors and magical creatures in the educational play set Knights of Knowledge. This combination action-figure diorama and electronic learning aid presents a castle that incorporates a 2-inch, black-and-white LCD screen cleverly contained within a crystal ball, a keyboard that looks like a drawbridge and a sword-shaped controller to engage children 5 years old and older in a variety of on-screen challenges.

A booming Arthurian voice asks the player to choose a champion from the group of 2-inch plastic figures: King Ed Word to go on a quest of vocabulary and spelling, Sir Counts-a-lot to help with early math skills or Lady Logic to stretch the brain with some sequencing and pattern problems.

The player then places the figure on various grooved spots around the castle with prompts from the narrator in the training and adventure modes or randomly in the free-play mode and follows directions while enjoying animations, games and sound effects.

The challenges can be as simple as adding two-digit numbers or shooting an apple with the help of the enter key or as difficult as alphabetizing three words or selecting pairs of matching sounds.

Wrong answers are followed with encouragement unless the figure is standing on the dungeon trapdoor or near the crocodile's lair. Then, players would be wise to answer correctly or face the surprising consequences. Each spot selected recognizes the figure and begins appropriately themed games.

To keep the fun and teaching balanced, the castle also comes with a mighty fire-breathing creature of the Pete's Dragon variety to give children alternatives to interact with their champions.

Knights of Knowledge, Vtech, $49.99, stand-alone unit requires three AA batteries.

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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