- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 5, 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 can track down master criminals while cracking geographical conundrums in the Map Detectives, a story-based program that tells two woeful tales of petty theft. Parents will be reminded of Clue with an educational twist while players in second through sixth grades will be on the edge of their seats.

After an opening screen lets loose with a Dave Brubeck-inspired theme song, the player must register as a detective to keep track of his or her progress and select either the village mystery or the daylight robbery adventure. Each tale involves poor Lady Hartley, who really needs to move to a new neighborhood, as various objects in and around her manor keep getting pilfered.

By clicking on an arrow in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, the child can page through activities combining animation, photographs and sounds. The player works with ordnance survey maps or other types of geographic layouts to recover the stolen items, identify the crook and collect monetary rewards.

In the case of the village mystery, the junior detective first identifies the missing items using a map, of course ranging from expensive bracelets to a garden hose. Then the police offer five potential suspects, including Putrid Pete, Evil Edna and Slimy Simon.

The child must enter X and Y coordinates with help from a symbol ledger to watch a map-tracker hone in on a specific area. When items are found, it leads to scenic screens where players collect the objects and find a clickable clue to the identity of the perpetrator.

More of the same type of logic must be applied in the daylight robbery adventure, except things are more complicated. A golden chest has been stolen during one of Lady Hartley's parties, and 12 suspects are offered. After reading biographies on each suspect, the child must track down witnesses by scouring maps of a subway, cycling path and walking route juxtaposed against real photographs of the areas to hone in on the person and receive clues.

Created by Sherston Software, a British developer, the game also exposes American children to many English locales and words to give them a cultural lesson along with the education in map reading.

Additionally, several levels of difficulty can be set (which controls the number of clues given and the amount of stolen stuff to find) for added replay value. Hard-copy color trading cards, maps and a game sheet of suspects also come in the package to immerse players, both virtually and away from the computer.

Parents should note that the program works best on a Macintosh using older system software or a PC. The current line of iMacs will cause some problems.

The Map Detectives, Tool Factory, $59.95, Hybrid for PC and Macintosh systems.

Future filmmakers get lessons in moviemaking, geography, animals and mathematics with the help of The Inside Scoop, a full-color interactive magazine. Time for Kids magazine has teamed with educational product maker LeapFrog to deliver 23 pages of sound and visual content on the world of cinema for children 8 years old and older. The magazine is used with the Quantum Pad or LeapPad Learning systems ($49.99, sold separately).

The touch of a high-tech pen brings words and images to audio life. Youngsters read about two Foley artists, Jana Vance and Dennie Thorpe of "Monsters, Inc." fame. Such artists match sound effects to the action in a movie. Scouting movie locations around the world, creating a sound-effects recording and reviewing a day in the life of Daniel "Harry Potter" Radcliffe are other multimedia activities among 20 available to keep children learning, smiling and working for hours.

The Inside Scoop, LeapFrog, $14.99, stand-alone unit used in conjunction with LeapPad Learning 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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