- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 22, 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.

Bill Cosby’s younger alter ego, the star of a popular animated show on Nick Jr., makes his triumphant debut in the realm of educational CD-ROMs in Little Bill Thinks Big. Based on real-life discovery and the importance of imagination, the show has been transformed into a computer adventure to give children 4 to 6 years old the chance to hone skills in the area of math and logic.

Through an amazing 20 activities, the game has the child direct Bill in and around his house to talk to family members, take on challenges and conquer games that help him collect pieces to build a big surprise.

After signing in and picking a season, which determines the surprise for the family — Bill builds a lemonade stand in the summer and snowman in the winter — the child explores with Bill and clicks up various objects to engage in a challenge. For example, a stop in the living room has the elderly Alice the Great greet Bill as he takes part in a photo-album game involving the sequencing of images to collect a big surprise piece.

Little Bill Thinks Big offers no revolutionary breakthrough in the edutainment titles but will feel very comfortable to children who love this type of “seek and play” fun, while fans of the little guy will love being part of and identifying with his creative life.

Little Bill Thinks Big, Scholastic Inc., $19.99, cross-compatible with PC and Macintosh systems.

Girls watch a dancing, computer-generated version of Mattel’s legendary doll while learning about a classic work by Russian composer Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky in “Barbie of Swan Lake.” This third in a series of DVDs highlighting Barbie offers a modern interpretation of the ballet with sequences choreographed by Peter Martins, New York City Ballet’s ballet master in chief, and scored by the London Symphony Orchestra.

Members of the New York City Ballet, including principal dancer Maria Kowroski, help bring the animated characters to life via motion-sensor technology that mirrors the dancers’ movements.

In this interpretation of the 19th-century German fairy tale, Barbie is Odette, the young daughter of a baker who follows a unicorn into the Enchanted Forest. There she encounters the evil wizard Rothbart (voiced by Kelsey Grammer), who turns her into a swan. He has his sights set on controlling the forest by defeating the Fairy Queen. Only the courage and honesty of Odette — with help from the queen, who can return her to human form at night, and the love of Prince Daniel — can defeat the villainous madman.

After watching the beautiful 83-minute presentation, girls can check out an inspirational 20-minute documentary on four girls studying at the Juilliard School, a feature on the dance moves of “Swan Lake” performed by Barbie’s friends, and a game challenging children to take a tour of constellations and identify them.

Also, PC users can access a demo from the Barbie of Swan Lake game (which provides plenty of advertising opportunities for Vivendi Universal), taking them into the enchanted forest and using three wands to magically beautify the surroundings.

Overall, this is another triumph for Barbie that should inspire youngsters as well as lighten the bank account of parents, considering the number of dolls, ornaments, glitter globes and Brach’s fruit snacks associated with the release.

Barbie of Swan Lake, Artisan Home Entertainment, $19.99, For DVD-enabled home entertainment centers and computers.

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 (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).



MDisney’s Magical Quest 2 by Disney Interactive, for Game Boy Advance, $29.99. Starring Mickey Mouse and his pal Minnie, this platform game squeezes Super Nintendo-style graphics into a hand-held system and surprises with its variety of engaging action. After Baron Pete ruins a circus that has come to town, he and his henchmen, the three Weasel brothers, decide to continue causing problems by taking over the Lonely Ghosts mansion on their way to taking over the world.

It is up to the popular animated characters to stop the portly villain by using three costumes, such as the sweeper that will suck up the bad guys, as they collect coins, climb rocks, shoot cork pistols and run into a passel of familiar friends, including Goofy, Donald Duck and Pluto.

mBionicle by Electronic Arts, for Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube, $39.99. Based on Lego’s line of buildable action figures, this fantastic-looking third-person adventure with a frustrating roaming camera has a single player enter the island of Mata Nui and evolve into a super Toa to find the mask of light and defeat the sinister villain Makuta.

The game unfolds within six themed environments around the Bionicles’ home as the player eventually chooses from six characters to fight nasty creatures, snowboard and surf lava slides while collecting power-up crystals and directing blasts of elemental energy at enemies. This game, a platformer at heart, offers quite a challenge and requires an equal amount of defensive and offensive moves for victory. It should keep younger children who know the difference between a Rahkshi and a Matoran grinning from ear to ear.

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