- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 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 can learn the finely animated art of directing and storytelling through the addictive Toon Twister 3D.

Featuring the stars, sounds and worlds of Nickelodeon’s most popular cartoons — “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius,” “Rugrats ” and “The Fairly OddParents” — the CD allows middle-school-age children to use a robust editing suite to create a colorful and noisy masterpiece from opening title to rolling credits.

Junior directors will be absorbed in the creative process after a quick introduction from SpongBob’s curmudgeonly nemesis, Plankton — who offers his brand of irritating advice throughout. Players are taken to an opening screen featuring a choice of 40 background locations, 50 props and 21 major characters that can be dropped on a rectangular work area.

Once major players and their props are in place, the user moves into the Direct area, where a manipulable time line displays any actions, sounds or directions as colored and labeled segments. The junior director can tweak the flow of the first scene by easily deleting segments to correct a mistake or changing their order.

For example, Jimmy Neutron and SpongeBob can be placed in Bikini Bottom, where SpongeBob can look at a floating Krabby Patty sandwich while the boy braniac bends over to work on one of his weird devices.

Adding actions requires simple mouse clicks and dragging on-screen elements to perform stunts such as crawling, running wildly, dancing and splatting against a wall.

Next comes dialogue and sound effects, with streams of favorite sayings or greetings from which to choose. Directors even can add moods to their actors to have them yell or throw a tantrum. Especially clever technophiles can hook up a microphone to the computer and add 10-second clips of their own voices to personalize their efforts.

After about 10 minutes of work, I had SpongeBob saying hello to Jimmy as he ran by. The Krabby Patty, complete with bubble propulsion, was bouncing about while SpongeBob said, “You delicate little Krabby Patty” as he chased down the sandwich.

Further refinements allow the director to zoom in or pan to places in the scene to create a fairly complex final product.

Once a scene has been completed, the director easily can create another using the same process until he has a fully developed cartoon. Then, 23 soundtracks are available to embellish scenes before the finished work is premiered.

If the developers had used cel-shaded animation rather than having the characters take on a 3-D appearance, the final cartoon would look as if it had been ripped from a television screen.

The short can be compressed and sent to a friend or loved one who has the Toon Twister Stand Alone Player (available at www.toontwister3d.com).

The combination of familiar friends and the rich experience of taking control of the filmmaking process makes Toon Twister the perfect tool for the future Chuck Jones in the family.

Toon Twister 3D, Scholastic Inc., $19.99, for Windows Operating 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).

Here are two multimedia or entertainment items to try:

• Super Duper Sumos by Midway Entertainment for Game Boy Advance, $29.99. Three fat teenagers wearing thongs protect the world from the evil Ms. Mister, Genghis Fangus, Dr. Stinger and their minions in this side-scrolling challenge based on the Nickelodeon cartoon.

Players choose from Kimo, Defender of Honor; Mamoo, Defender of Truth; or Booma, Defender of Peace (who resembles Chris Farley) as they squeeze, butt squish and roll over robotic dogs, mutated creatures and henchmen while finding plenty of time to eat.

Although it promotes fun alongside obesity in a time when children can spell McDonald’s before broccoli, the game offers a silly romp filled with sophomoric scenarios and better-than-average graphics that should keep 5- to 10-year-old Phat fans satisfied.

• The Haunted Mansion by TDK Mediactive, for PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox, $29.99. Disney’s most chilling theme park attraction was transformed into a horrifyingly mediocre movie this holiday season, but it fares much better as a spooky gaming experience balancing third-person 3-D action with a puzzling platformer.

Zeke Holloway must release 999 trapped souls or become one of the permanent inhabitants of the eerie domicile. Armed with a magic lantern, the aspiring author must visit poltergeist-plagued rooms to shed light upon them and capture the specters to succeed.

As the player guides Zeke through the mansion, he battles plenty of creepy crawlies while maintaining his bravery meter. He will run into apparitions from the Haunted Mansion ride, including Madame Leota, trapped in her crystal ball, and the ghostly, top-hatted organist, to delight Disneyland fans. Overall, the family-friendly fright fest features nothing too scary to keep youngsters from enjoying its rich selection of brain-straining activities and ghost busting.

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