- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 13, 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 king of curmudgeonly cats helps humans become proficient with a keyboard in Garfield’s Typing Pal. The program utilizes 56 exercises, a couple of games and a bit of humor to give children in middle school and above an entertaining reason to hone a skill important in today’s high-tech society.

After a user enters his name to create a monitoring file (it can even be password protected), and selects Arlene, Garfield or Odie as an assistant, a quick guided tour is offered.

Three levels are available, and most will choose beginner to try and attain a 20-word-per-minute typing speed. If a user isn’t sure where to start, a classification test can be taken, and the software will recommend a starting point.



After selecting from two typing styles, the actual finger aerobics begin. With plenty of color, sounds, menus and music presented in a cartoon-panel look, one’s assistant pops up in the corner of the screen with tips and prompts the user to click on the exercise icon.

Here, where the heart of the learning lies, a bunch of apples appear with familiar letters or characters underneath them. Each exercise involves placing fingers correctly on the keyboard and correctly striking a sequence of specific key symbols listed in columns and rows across the screen.

During the action, animated comics strips featuring Jim Davis’ best buddies appear at the bottom of the screen to supposedly motivate, but they end up doing a fine job of breaking concentration and annoying the user. I chose Garfield as my assistant, and as I was performing an exercise, he chowed down at an Italian buffet. When I correctly typed the letter sequences, he kept eating. When I made a mistake, he hiccuped.

Users hone skills, are graded at the end of each test, and are given tips on what needs work. In my case, I kept confusing the “f” and “d” keys, and the finicky feline suggested that my left middle finger needed some more practice and said I could go to the Improvement area to find 10 more personalized exercises.

The incredibly intuitive software also keeps track of improvement and presents statistics all along that closely watch each individual finger’s weakness when typing.

Games offer a break from the exercises, but keep the player thinking about typing by incorporating skills into the games.

As typists advance in skill, they will find a cornucopia of additional exercises that include taking dictation, and they can look into an ergonomics section to understand the importance of proper technique.

Additionally, the program has a mysterious inspector who will analyze users’ performance as they work in other word-processing applications and even suggest more exercises. A really great idea.

Garfield’s Typing Pal does a fantastic job of teaching and prescribing plans for keyboard mastery, but could definitely do without the licensed character shenanigans during the exercise portion of the show.

Garfield’s Typing Pal, DeMarque, $19.98, for PC with at least a Windows 98 Microsoft operating system.

Children receive a tour of the galaxy through National Geographic’s 3-D Space Projector. Sold exclusively at Target stores, this orb-shaped slide projector acts as a mini-planetarium and perfectly projects images on a white bedroom wall with the help of sturdy five-image strips.

An accompanying audio CD provides 30-second fact nuggets, sound effects and music to embellish the 25 stellar photographs of such faraway places as the surface of Mars, Neptune’s rings, the Andromeda Galaxy and the Kuiper Belt.

Star watchers also get two pairs of cardboard 3-D glasses, which bring the spectacular photographs to life in eye-popping detail.

3-D Space Projector, National Geographic, $24.99, stand-alone unit requires three C 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)

DOUBLE DELIGHT

HERE ARE TWO MULTIMEDIA OR ENTERTAINMENT ITEMS TO TRY:

• APE ESCAPE 2 BY UBI SOFT FOR PLAYSTATION 2, $39.99. THIS SEQUEL TO A CLASSIC PLAYSTATION GAME IS ONE OF THE BEST 3-D PLATFORM TITLES OF THE YEAR. A SINGLE PLAYER TAKES ON THE ROLE OF JIMMY, WHO, WITH THE HELP OF TRUSTED ASSISTANT PIPOTCHI HOVERING ABOVE HIS HEAD AND HIS FRIEND NATALIE, MUST STOP THE INTELLIGENT PRIMATE SPECTER FROM TURNING THE WORLD INTO A “PLANET OF THE APES.” TO ACCOMPLISH THIS FEAT, JIMMY MUST WORK HIS WAY THROUGH 20 LEVELS CONTAINED IN EXPANSIVE ENVIRONMENTS AND SIMPLY CAPTURE 300 MONKEYS WITH A NET.

THE GAME WILL COMPLETELY CAPTIVATE A CHILD THANKS TO THE USE OF GADGETS SUCH AS A SUPER HOOP AND BANANARANG, THE CHANCE TO CONTROL A SUBMARINE AND TANK, FIGHTING THE FREAKY MONKEY FIVE, VIEWING BIOGRAPHIES ON EVERY MONKEY CAPTURED, COLLECTING GOLD COINS TO OBTAIN BONUSES SUCH AS SONGS, STORIES, SECRET PHOTOS AND DESIGN SKETCHES FROM THE GOTCHA BOX, AND EVEN TAKING PART IN GADGET PRACTICE AND MINIGAMES.

THE DEVELOPERS DEFINITELY HAD POKEMON ON THE BRAIN WHILE CREATING THIS ADDICTIVE JAUNT, AND THAT FORM OF IMITATION BODES WELL IN OFFERING THIS PERFECT FAMILY FRIENDLY FUN-FEST.

MPokemon Pinball: Ruby and Sapphire by Nintendo for Gameboy Advance, $29.99. While on the subject of Pokemon, Pikachu and the gang visit Nintendo’s popular hand-held gaming system to give junior the chance to maneuver a Poke-ball around a pinball table to catch 200 cute creatures.

The game delves into Pokemon lore as the player selects the Ruby or the Sapphire table, He or she commands three orbs using flippers to shoot them at bumpers, loops and secret passages to initiate a wide range of Pokemon-inspired adventures, including defeating Kecleon in a minigame by hitting him repeatedly with a ball, taking out some Duskulls or pummeling a Cyndaquil.

Pokemon can be hatched, evolved and even traded with friends using the GBA link cable. The Pokedex also contains biographies on the minimonsters in a player’s possession. The terminology may be Greek to parents, but the game still follows the laws and look of pinball and will keep family members pleasantly occupied on any long trip.

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