- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 20, 2003

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.

Children enjoy a classical composition while being challenged and educated in Nutcracker: The Music Game. Perfect for the winter holidays, this CD-ROM uses Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky’s 1892 ballet to allow middle-schoolers to take a harmonious journey of knowledge encompassing the elements and history of music.

Hosted by a friendly character named Usmus, who looks like a winged bagpipe with one pipe, the game has the player enter a child’s recreation room, click around and confront nine challenges to collect keys that will turn a wooden doll back into a prince — all based on the Nutcracker story line.

The games use music from “The Nutcracker” or Tchaikovsky’s “Children’s Album” along with colorful visuals featuring cute animal musicians. The challenges include mimicking note sequences on a vibraphone with Manny the Monkey, matching sounds to the instruments, and two fairly difficult challenges involving selecting the correct four instruments used to create a piece of music.

Additionally, players can access, in an on-screen book format, an eight-page biography of Tchaikovsky, the condensed plot of “The Nutcracker” and 10 pages on the history of the famous ballet, which was performed just four times during the composer’s life.

Children who just want to listen to the magic of Tchaikovsky are not forgotten. A Listening Room allows them to select from 15 records to place on a gramophone and hear complete passages from “The Nutcracker” and “Children’s Album.”

Finally, the simulation has an 18-instrument encyclopedia for junior conductors, offering a definition, audio snippet and rhyme to make them easy to remember. Overall, Nutcracker: The Music Game is one of the best edutainment products of the year.

Also available are Mozart’s Magic Flute Music Game and Alice in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which feature the same type of presentation.

Nutcracker: The Music Game, Music Games International, $19.99, for Windows Operating systems.

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 (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

TRIPLE TREAT

HERE ARE THREE MULTIMEDIA OR ENTERTAINMENT ITEMS TO TRY:

• SANTA CLAUSE 2 BY BUENA VISTA HOME ENTERTAINMENT, FOR DVD-ENABLED HOME ENTERTAINMENT CENTERS AND COMPUTERS, $19.99. ADULTS MAY BEST REMEMBER COMEDIAN TIM ALLEN AS THE TOOL GUY, BUT CHILDREN WILL ALWAYS THINK OF HIM AS SANTA, THANKS TO TWO MOVIES IN WHICH HE STARS IN THE TITLE ROLE. THE LATEST HAS ARRIVED ON DVD, TELLING THE TALE OF SANTA SEARCHING FOR A WIFE WHILE DEALING WITH HIS SON, WHO HAS ENDED UP ON THE “NAUGHTY” LIST.

AFTER TYKES HAVE WATCHED 104 MINUTES OF MERRINESS, A NICE SET OF BONUS FEATURES WILL PUT THEM IN THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT WHEN THEY POP THE DISC INTO THEIR PC TO VIEW A CUSTOM INTERFACE RESEMBLING SANTA’S LIGHTED CONTROL BOARD. THE FEATURES INCLUDE ONLINE COLORING PAGES THAT CAN BE PRINTED OUT, A CHALLENGE TO IDENTIFY THE CORRECT REINDEER IN THEIR STALLS, A SERIES OF QUESTIONS TO ANSWER TO HELP SANTA CREATE A PERSONAL AD TO FIND HIS PERFECT SPOUSE AND A MATCHING GAME INVOLVING FINDING AND ELIMINATING SIMILARLY COLORED HOLIDAY TILES.

Hobbit by Ubi-Soft, for PlayStation 2 and Xbox, $49.99. Children too young to participate in the more violent Electronic Arts video game The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, can find solace in J.R.R. Tolkien’s early work about middle earth through a fun third-person adventure.

Junior takes control of Bilbo Baggins after Gandalf the Wizard entrusts him with helping the dwarves. Bilbo then roams the countryside of the Shire and eventually battles goblins, trolls, orcs and spiders on his way to Lonely Mountain to meet and defeat Smaug the dragon. The cute, colorful and cartoonlike characters and the sweeping musical score will entrance younger players who are in the Legend of Zelda frame of mind but have fallen in love with the “Rings” fantasy epic.

• World Race by THQ, for PlayStation 2 and GameCube, $39.99. Those plugged into Hot Wheels lore have been enjoying the Highway 35 story line this year along with a great selection of die-cast vehicles. Scientist Peter Tezla’s competition, involving 35 of the greatest drivers competing through a network of tracks created by the extinct Accelerons, jumps to the television screen in a fun racing simulation.

Children eventually can choose from 15 cool cars as they accelerate through unnerving environments, perform twists and flips in the air and collect speed boosts and flaming tires to unlock shortcuts and take the checkered flag. Players can enjoy a League mode to unlock more vehicles and tracks and a multiplayer mode to have friends join the fun.

Thanks to a quick learning curve and simple controls, even the youngest Hot Wheels fan will be able to conquer Tezla’s crazy challenges.


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