- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 28, 2004

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.

A popular game show turns a recreation room into a learning center in Host Your Own Jeopardy. This expensive but comprehensive package uses stand-alone components and category-loaded cartridges to offer an accurate representation of the 40-year-old quiz program.

Just as in the real game, three players view a category board, choose a topic and buzz in to give an answer in the form of a question. A human moderator is chosen to act as famed host Alex Trebek to keep the game moving.

The fun begins when the base unit is plugged into the back of a television using its A/V jacks. The unit acts as both an electronic scoreboard and the game’s brain center, posting the answers and questions on the TV screen.

Each player receives a wireless remote to buzz in, and the host gets a wireless controller to tell the base unit whether a player gave the right question and what to reveal next. Players get seven seconds to choose a category, displayed as a disappearing green bar at the bottom of the screen and seven seconds (denoted by a red bar) to offer a question to correctly describe the clue.

Just as in the television show, players compete in Single Jeopardy and Double Jeopardy, take part in Daily Doubles and, with the help of paper and pencils, play Final Jeopardy, during which they even hear the annoying “thinking” song.

The package comes with four cartridges containing a total of 20 games with categories that appeal to children, teens, experts and casual viewers of the show. That means a brain-draining exercise in topics such as geography, history, animals, American presidents and quotations.

It also includes a CD-ROM to print answer keys for the host, blank template keys that can be filled in on a computer and an 81-page manual.

The most intriguing part of the package is the ability to plug in an accompanying keyboard and meticulously create one’s own game of “Jeopardy” and save it to a blank cartridge that also is included.

It takes a while to create an ultimate “Star Wars”-themed contest or a family-reunion trivia game, but it is well worth the effort.

The game-creation option combined with the ability to purchase additional cartridges featuring categories in almost all school disciplines and honed to specific grades makes the product an excellent educational assistant flexible enough to be used to review current classroom assignments, be used as a competitive tutor to a group of home-schoolers or be taken to a party for brain-draining, motivational fun.

Host Your Own Jeopardy, Educational Insights, $399.99, stand-alone unit, requires eight 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).



• THE THREE MUSKETEERS, FROM BUENA VISTA HOME ENTERTAINMENT, FOR DVD-ENABLED COMPUTERS AND HOME ENTERTAINMENT CENTERS, $29.99. Although I am more partial to the 1970s Richard Lester-directed screen version of Alexandre Dumas’ swashbuckler, my younger half decided Mickey, Donald and Goofy were much more entertaining than actors Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain and Frank Finlay. Who would have imagined?

This brand-new, Disney-ized version of the classic tale hooks the kindergarten demographic by combining 68 minutes of traditional animation, clever repartee, action and permutated operatic compositions. A plethora of bonus features are added to complete the satisfying multimedia experience.

After enjoying the cartoon, which feeds upon the roles of friendship and teamwork, junior will appreciate the ability to build his opera scene by clicking on a backdrop and a singer and then sitting back for a musical performance. Also on tap are nine vintage clips of Mickey Mouse over the years enacted by selecting different types of hats.

Parents will get a kick out of the tongue-in-cheek behind-the-scenes documentary plus a commentary track by the three Disney stars along with the villain of the tale, Peg-Leg Pete, as they seriously analyze a five-minute scene.

The DVD also features an automatic Fast Play option that allows viewers befuddled by controllers and menus to just watch the main presentation along with a select set of the bonuses.

• Thunderbirds Are Go! from Vivendi Universal Games, for Game Boy Advance, $27.99. Based on the mediocre live-action movie rather than the hip 1960s television puppet show, the game crams three-quarter perspective action into nine areas of exploration on a 3-inch-square screen.

Three Thunderbirds team members — Alan, Fermat and Tin-Tin — must work together and individually use a special power as they pull levers, maneuver through mazes, unlock doors and confront the minions of the Hood. Occasionally, missions allow players to control the famed Thunderbirds’ ships as they perform rescue missions.

The routine challenge especially will appeal to younger fans of the film. Considering the number of much better games of this genre out there — Lost Vikings, Mega Man and Sonic, to name a few — cash earmarked for video-game acquisition can be much better spent.

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