- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 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.

An ancient city cleverly reveals the mysteries of chemistry to teenagers brave enough to unearth its secrets and save a scientist in Chemicus: Journey to the Other Side.

Tivola Entertainment uses a design formula based on its other fantastic science adventures, Bioscopia and Physicus, but a different story line as it engages a player through a first-person perspective to explore and learn.

After an amulet with the power to unlock a portal to a forgotten land is used by avid chemist Richard, he is kidnapped and charged by hooded beings with stealing their energy source. The new-to-the-scene virtual adventurer's mission is to prove Richard's innocence and restore power to Chemicus as quickly as possible.

In this two-disc science fact fest, the player meticulously roams through Myst-like environments, clicking, collecting and solving his way to success. The player may have to read a note written in lemon juice by placing it over a hot plate, find a leaf of red cabbage needed to increase the pH value of a solution or open a set of drawers in the correct sequence after an introduction to element symbols.

Wise players will first want to venture into the encyclopedic Brain Center, which can be activated by acquiring Richard's communicator in one of the game's first activities. The center acts as translator for collected knowledge chips as well as a six-chapter repository for easy-to-understand text and illustrated explanations of such chemistry minutia as substance properties, atom structure and bonding.

I was amazed by the slick graphic presentation, which included video transmissions from a frantic Richard to keep the tension level high, and the scope of science presented despite the amount of time I spent just looking around for clues.

In addition to being exposed to many facets of the scientific discipline, including oxidation, electrolysis and the periodic table of elements, I was able to read about topics such as the disposal of chemical wastes, acid rain and the natural limestone cycle to merge theory with practical applications.

Only the most patient of players will be able to conquer and digest all of the subtleties of this wonderful adventure, but they will be richly rewarded.

Chemicus: Journey to the Other Side, Tivola Entertainment, $19.99, cross-compatible with Macintosh and PC systems.

Nickelodeon Jr.'s curious little bilingual girl teaches some object identification, numbers and a bit of Spanish in Dora the Explorer: Backpack Adventure. This colorful animated effort features a full cast of familiar friends who hinder and help Dora as she tries to return five books to the local library.

Dora and her pal Boots the monkey cheer on preschoolers as they visit seven locations and perform plenty of clicking, solving and smiling to reach goals. The challenges range from placing colored shapes in their proper holes as a troll jeers to stopping by Isa's garden to help her plant some flowers and scare away Swiper the Fox to hot-air ballooning up a big rock with Benny the Bull by correctly identifying numbers.

The program can be enjoyed in free-play or story mode and tackled at three difficulty levels. Players who conquer challenges are rewarded with a sticker from the famous Fiesta Trio that then can be used to explore a bit of artistic creativity in a printable book.

A mix of cartoon segments, musical interludes and perfect computer-crafted characters make up for the painful load time between challenges and the brevity of the adventure.

Dora the Explorer: Backpack Adventure, Infogrames, $19.99, cross-compatible with Macintosh and PC 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 ([email protected]).

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