- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 14, 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.

Children get a quick primer on diagnosing common illnesses and injuries as they interact with D.M. Dinwiddie, Physician- in-Training. This third-person role-playing exploration game demands that the Doogie Howser in the family help a dozen of Dinwiddie’s associates to get the precocious 12-year-old a trip to the Super Troopers camp.

As the saga opens, the player learns that D.M. has 12 days to earn a medical-arts achievement badge to make his summer dream come true. With his trusty pooch Cujette, the carrier of the first-aid kit, by his side, D.M. roams through 12 animated neighborhoods in Merseyville, U.S.A., interacting and trying to obtain medical knowledge.

Targeting 8- to 12-year-olds, the game combines cartoon-strip-type presentations with mouse-controlled maneuvering, pop-up dialogue balloons and a host of inventory items and necessary tools to treat such problems as cuts, sunburn, food poisoning, appendicitis, influenza and broken bones.

The player first becomes David Marvin or Danielle Maricelle (the D and M in D.M.) and views three lengthy tutorials that clearly explain the game’s objectives. Then the player can be part of the “day in the life” Adventure scenario through 12 levels, which involves investigating an environment and solving puzzles while seeking out the potential victim, or the player can jump straight to the medical portion of the challenges as he simply looks at a patient and figures out what is wrong.

Adventure mode can be quite involved, with the player choosing to be part of cryptic adventures such as the Blue Freezicle Affair, the Lost Keys of Old Man Dinwiddie or the Master Chef of Merseyville as he learns how to grow crystals before treating a simple cut or determines the spiciness of a selection of hot peppers before dealing with a minor burn.

When it’s time to diagnose, D.M. uses interviews, a Medlab 5000 hand-held encyclopedia reference for text-based information and Cujette’s first-aid kit to take on-screen diagnostics to refine the examination.

Once junior has an idea of the illness, he must offer a correct treatment slip to the patient and pass a multiple-choice quiz administered by the on-screen parent before he gets his Achievement Book stamped and is awarded a certificate for that particular medical condition.

The comfortable mix of seeking action along with slipping in knowledge makes the educational ride a fairly lengthy but very enjoyable one.

D.M. Dinwiddie, Physician-in-Training, Health Media Lab, $29.95, for PC 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).

TWO FOR ONE

HERE’S A NEW ENTERTAINMENT ITEM TO TRY:

• Pac-Man World 2 and Pac-Man Vs. by Namco, for GameCube and Game Boy Advance, $19.95. Families enamored with the dot-munching exploits of Toru Iwatani’s 24-year-old arcade phenomenon are in for a real treat thanks to a cheap bundle of fun featuring two discs that let them immerse themselves in the maze-maneuvering adventures.

First, a routine platformer greets single gamers in Pac-Man World 2 as they control a 3-D version of the yellow legend through six worlds in his mission to take back the Golden Fruit from Spooky and his ghost minions. Exploration and defeating enemies are the key here while our hero battles bosses and pesky enemies and collects tokens to work through 20 levels and even engage in a game of traditional Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man.

Second, Pac-Man Vs. demonstrates the interactive power of connectivity between Nintendo’s hand-held and entertainment console systems in a multiplayer free-for-all. A single player controls the hero through his Game Boy Advance (using a cable attached to the GameCube) and attempts to rack up a set number of points by chewing up turf and eating the opposition while three of his pals use the console’s controllers and take on the role of enemy ghosts trying to capture Pac-Man to collect their own points to win.

Displayed in the traditional 2-D maze layout for the GBA user and a 3-D, restricted view of the board for each of the ghosts, the title brilliantly mixes teamwork, strategy and easy-to-understand action within the Pac-Man mythos.

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