- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 8, 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.

The Dynamic Duo battle archenemies above and below Gotham City as 7- to 10-year-olds hone logic and problem-solving skills in Batman: Toxic Chill.

This adventure game, featuring DC Comics characters, won’t turn junior into a physics professor, but it will give him a fine appreciation for many of the cerebral skills required to wear the cowl of the Dark Knight.

The Riddler and Mr. Freeze have combined their might in this game to turn Gotham into a toxic waste dump, and only Batman and Robin can save the day. With the help of Alfred, Batgirl and the Batcomputer, the pair must drive around the city, visit locations and engage in challenges to collect and solve riddles to uncover their enemies’ ultimate plan.

After signing in, the player is greeted with some great animated segments setting up the story. Batman and Robin then appear in the Batcave and can be directed to multiple levels of Wayne Manor or to the Batmobile to visit the Financial District, Finger Rivers area and the Coventry, where they can go into and around buildings to take part in challenges and collect clues to take back to the Batcomputer.

A stop by any of the chemical factories will find the heroes diverting deadly mixtures of toxins from overflowing barrels to automatic shut-off control tanks. Successfully filling the final tanks in two, or sometimes three, mazelike structures prevents the substances from leaking into the ground and earns a piece of the riddle.

Mr. Freeze rears his chilly head in a game that involves the heroes using a new weapon called the Firebat to thaw buildings in Mr. Freeze’s icy clutches. The weapon has three slots, and the correct crystal pattern sequence must be input in order to blast away the ice. The game really tests the brain and looks as great as it is difficult.

An underground challenge that resembles a common side-scrolling game has Batman working alone, climbing, jumping and using items from his utility belt to stop thugs and collect bat signals and more clues.

Anytime a clue has been collected, the player brings the team back to the Batcomputer, where team members become linguists and cryptologists by matching symbols with letters and then turning letters into words and sentences to correctly decipher riddles. The Batcomputer also contains a miniencyclopedia, read aloud by Bruce Wayne, that highlights bat gear and foes.

The mixture of gaming activities, puzzles and varying degrees of difficulty along with the faithful-to-the-comic-book presentation will keep junior crime fighters glued to their seats and parents cheering them on.

The Caped Crusaders also star in another new game, Batman: Justice Unbalanced, which uses the same game engine and similar types of activities as Toxic Chill, but players get to battle the Penguin and Two-Face.

Batman: Toxic Chill and Batman: Justice Unbalanced, the Learning Co., $19.99 each, cross-compatible for PC and Macintosh 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).



MFinding Nemo, by Buena Vista Home Entertainment for DVD-enabled home entertainment centers and computers, $29.99. The highest-grossing animated movie in the history of cinema makes its way to DVD and gives families an evening of learning and laughs. “Finding Nemo” chronicles the adventures of a young clown fish and his quest to return home. The two-disc collection offers the finest work of Pixar Studios to date, presented in full-screen or widescreen format along with multiple documentaries, fish interviews and plenty of art samples from the production.

Disc 2 will appeal to viewers who want a quick education on the ocean, thanks to a hilarious seven-minute segment that features undersea explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau taking viewers on a dive to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef with help from the “Nemo” gang.

Three other fun extras include several types of virtual aquariums containing characters from the film that can be configured on a television screen, a game of underwater charades using silverfish and a jellyfish, and an interactive story that can be read along with a narrator or viewed silently.

mBilly Hatcher and the Giant Egg, by Sega for GameCube, $39.99. The legendary creators of Sonic the Hedgehog, Yuji Naka and his team, are back with a new platform game featuring a heroic little boy in a rooster suit who must save the world from the evil clutches of the Crow King.

This wonderful adventure will mesmerize children with its gorgeous environments, infectious music, puzzles and problem-solving as they control Billy through the lands of water, fire, ice and wind.

Billy rolls and jumps, bouncing and shooting around an egg while smashing obstacles and bad guys to reveal fruit to feed the orb. Once the egg has grown and begins to glow, Billy uses his powerful rooster screech to hatch it, revealing helpful creatures and items.

As children hatch eggs, the orbs’ contents are logged in an archive for later viewing. The game also offers four-player split-screen battles using four distinct characters and also can be hooked up to the Game Boy Advance to download minichallenges.

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