- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 25, 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 will have their hands full of learning opportunities with Pixter Color. Acting as a child’s first personal digital assistant, this 7-inch-square device will captivate children 4 years old and older thanks to its variety of activities, backlighted screen, sound effects, music, narration and 128 colors bursting from its 3-inch work area.

After parents calibrate the stylus pen to the touch-sensitive screen, junior gets a chance to express himself as an artist through Pixter’s installed software. Activities including 15 connect-the-magic-dots images and more than a dozen color-by-numbers exercises combine with drawing, painting, special effects and rubber-stamp programs to teach sequencing and pattern skills. The high-tech design even allows for work to be saved easily to show off to friends or finish later.

It was wonderful to watch my test subject’s discovery quotient exceed my expectations as he automatically knew to click the pen on the screen and journey deeper and deeper into Pixter’s robust digital experience.

The hand-held device’s versatility also allows it to accept a full line of Fisher-Price content cartridges ($9.99 each) to continue the fun, and it is compatible (with the included adapter) with its black-and-white, 2-year-old brethren’s cartridges.

In addition to a diverse arcade and some licensed property cartridges such as Barbie and Rescue Heroes, one of the best is a dandy educational jaunt titled Creative Genius.

The add-on first provides an excellent opportunity for junior to practice tracing and writing his letters and numbers through on-screen ruled pages using both templates and blank lines. Word-to-picture recognition and simple math also are covered, and there are plenty of chances to use Pixter’s art programs to enhance scenes.

The cartridge’s other learning avenues cleverly teach by having junior embellish environments with meteorological phenomena as a narrator describes the conditions. The device then throws in a timed concentration challenge and object differentiation game, making it a great deal for the money.

Although I loved the device’s tracing capabilities, children may get a bit frustrated while manually writing some letters and numbers because of a lack of screen pixels to smoothly duplicate curves or too many pixels being delivered if too much pressure is applied to the screen.

Despite its heavy price point, the sturdiness and expandability of the Color Pixter make it an excellent choice for parents in need of a Game Boy alternative or educational gaming solution for their children.

Pixter Color, by Fisher-Price, $79.99, stand-alone unit with headphone jack (headphones not included) requiring four AA batteries.

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).

TRIPLE TREAT

HERE ARE THREE MULTIMEDIA OR ENTERTAINMENT ITEMS TO TRY IN THE SPIRIT OF HALLOWEEN:

• Playhouse Disney Halloween, by Buena Vista Home Entertainment, for DVD-enabled computer and entertainment systems, $19.99. Based on the popular morning shows for children on the Disney cable channel, the DVD offers CGI-animated high jinks of Rolie Polie Olie in “A Spooky Ookie Halloween,” the puppet version of 100 Acre Wood characters in “Book of Pooh: Just Say Boo,” and a real Halloween party with “Out of the Box” hosts Tony, Vivian and their friends. The disc also provides a way to decorate a jack-o’-lantern on-screen as well as a video demonstration on creating spooky decorations for the home.

• Nicktoons Halloween: Tales of Fright, by Paramount Home Entertainment, for DVD-enabled computer and entertainment systems, $19.99. Children get 108 minutes of scary shenanigans featuring some of their favorite animated friends. There are no extra activities to enjoy on this DVD, just plenty of ghastly giggles courtesy of the episodes “SpongeBob SquarePants: Scaredy Pants,” “Rugrats: Curse of the Werewuff,” “Rocket Power: It Came From Planet Merv,” “Rocket Power: Netherworld Night,” “Hey Arnold: Arnold’s Halloween” and “Fairly Odd Parents: Scary Godparents.”

• Scooby-Doo: Mystery Mayhem, by THQ for Game Boy Advance, $29.99. The petrified pooch and his Mystery Inc. gang are back on Nintendo’s hand-held system to chase some noisy ghosts and stop a high-tech corporation from releasing creepy creatures from the Hanna-Barbera animated universe.

The side-scrolling adventure offers five mysteries to solve by roaming around a room-filled mansion, a way to swap control of Shaggy and Scooby and a laugh track to pepper some lame, text-based dialogue. Cute elements include the pair of detectives each getting pale and temporarily losing his mind when running into specters (a condition cured by munching on a Scooby Snack), a way to sneak around objects to avoid notice and harnessing the Ghostbuster power of the book “Tome of Doom” to handle a cornucopia of ghouls.

Mystery Mayhem does nothing to push the limits of its gaming genre, but it certainly is worth playing after a hard night of trick-or-treating.


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