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 learn an ancient game and protect the honor of a kingdom as they Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster. This clever CD-ROM simulation combines story elements with games while honing logic and strategy skills to turn junior into a grandmaster before mom and dad can say Svetozar Gligoric.
Players 8 and older must help Fritz, the son of the White King, and his cousin Bianca defend Pleasantville when his parents take an extended vacation. The Snidely Whiplashlike Black King challenges the nerdy heir to an arena-sized game of chess just to humiliate the White dynasty.
The pair of potential heroes must prepare, and first they run into the Kaleidoscope King who must get them to the Inteligym to train for the main event. Along the way, players click through to various watercolor environments mixing with animated characters as they encounter six warm-up games.
What the player may not realize is the first set of challenges actually introduces them to some basic concepts in the world of chess. For example, controlling a sumo wrestler, one space at a time, as he tries to knock an opponent out of a ring relates to moving the king. A frenetic Pacman game that has Tremblina Saveapenny moving vertically and horizontally around a maze to collect coins and avoid spiders mimics the moves of a rook.
My favorite of the six, smashing toilets with a bouncing ball, may look like a strange permutation of Pong but actually tunes the player to the role of the bishop.
After conquering the basic games, the child moves the protagonists into the Intelligym and meets Chesster the Cheshire rat, who acts like Rocky’s mentor, Mickey. Placed in a gymnasium environment, Fritz will work through three rooms to take on 15 chess-specific exercises, learning about the game.
These noggin builders range from setting up the pieces on a chess board to understanding the nuances of stalemate and smothered mate to cornering a king with a pair of rooks to playing a match using only a selection of pieces.
Success in the gym is measured with a Chessometer contraption and trophies are awarded to Fritz for each lesson completed. Ultimately, junior takes on the Black King in a rousing game of chess where pieces obliterate each other in a puff of smoke as the match progresses.
The perfect melding of cartoon high jinks with a learning experience makes this one of the best examples of edutainment in the market today.
The title also comes with a full year’s free access to the Web site Playchess.com to give players a chance to compete with others around the world.
Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster, Viva Media, $29.99, for Windows 95/98/ME/XP 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, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).