- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 15, 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."

Disney Records' popular Read-Along format now extends the possibilities of the digital video disc in home-entertainment centers and computers through a line of stories filled with film friends and familiar songs.

Created to help hone vocabulary and language skills, the discs (bought separately) bring to life the worlds of "Monsters, Inc.," "Toy Story 2," "Tarzan" or "The Little Mermaid."

All of the DVDs feature accessibility in five languages English, German, French, Italian and Spanish and center around an interactive storybook displaying words and images supported with narration, original character voices and sound effects.

In the "Monsters, Inc." DVD, youngsters watch still images from the popular movie while reading along to the troubles of the hardworking scare team of James P. "Sulley" Sullivan and Mike Wazowski after a little girl infiltrates Monstropolis.

Viewers simply pop in the disc and use the remote or mouse to engage the story, three songs and a video on the making of a "Monsters, Inc." album; practice specific words in selectable languages by hearing and seeing them; and play a boring game in which the player must put movie scenes in order.

Even though the discs appear to be designed for the 5- to 8-year-old audience, my 3-year-old still found the presentation captivating and the songs mesmerizing. With a remote control in hand, he sang along with "Under the Bed" until the tune burned itself into my brain.

I loved the cheap price point, simplistic and consistent menus, and all-star assistance from Dom DeLuise, Billy Crystal and John Goodman, but I question why Disney does not extend the DVD even further and offer a two-disc set, for a slightly higher price point, containing the full movie in addition to the storybook. That might make for a very powerful package and give junior even more reason to read along to the adventures of his pals.

DVD Read-Along: Monsters, Inc., Disney Interactive, $14.98, for DVD-enabled home entertainment centers and computers.
A knowledge quest awaits all those brave enough to jump into a GeoSafari Sea Search. This stand-alone board with a touch-sensitive mat and pen gives children 8-years-old and up an interactive adventure featuring seven educational modes.

The unit basically acts as a "click-and-listen" decision-making center concentrating on geography and history as it spews forth information on the mysteries of the oceans, including their residents, famous places, shipwrecks, volcanoes, vessels and even treasures. A topographical map of the world surrounded by 30 creature icons is laid out on the sturdy unit, and, with clicks of the pen, it comes to life with sound effects and narration.

A crusty sea veteran who sounds a bit like a hoarse Kevin Pollack trades commentary duties with the versatile voice of an onboard computer as the player begins to take part in the action, which can range from clicking on an icon of a penguin to learn an interesting fact to quickly finding longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates in a timed challenge to taking a quiz on sea life.

Among the modes available, this sailor enjoyed hearing about explorers such as Thor Heyerdahl, Roald Amundsen, Bartolomeu Dias or Frederick Fleet, a crew member from the ill-fated Titanic, by clicking on the person's image and then clicking on arrows showing their routes.

Overall, Sea Search does provide a satisfying educational experience with plenty to think about and digest, but it feels a bit outdated when placed in a world of high-powered computer simulations, immersive video games and immediate Internet gratification.

GeoSafari Sea Search, Educational Insights, $89.95, stand-alone unit with headphone jack (headphones not included), requires 4-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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