- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 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 put their observational prowess to the test while exercising their noggins in the latest I Spy Fantasy CD-ROM. Based on the award-winning series of books by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick, the computer challenge combines photo-realistic images of object collections with rhyming riddles to hone visual and auditory skills within a puzzle format.

This collection features three gorgeous “click-and-seek” adventures in which children 6 to 10 years old can save a fair maiden in a medieval castle setting, launch a spaceship from an alien planet and find hidden treasure under the sea — all by using their ears and peepers.

For example, after a player types in his name, he visits a playroom where he can click on a castle that leads him to the outside of a fortress where knights are engaged in battle. He clicks on the door and enters to discover various paths.

The player eventually visits the throne room, wizard’s laboratory, tower and dungeon to collect keys to free a princess. In each of various rooms, he will be presented with an environment filled with items and a narrator who reads a rhyme displayed at the bottom of the illustration. As the player clicks on items listed in the rhyme, they will move and offer a sound effect while the words on the screen turn green.

Challenges range from finding a matchstick on a wall of armaments to finding a six-letter word on a crown to finding eight wings within a royal tapestry.

Once rhymes are completed, six keys are fitted into a lock in the correct pattern. The adventure isn’t over, however — a fire-breathing menace still blocks the final door to the princess. That signals a second puzzle round, in which the child must follow more riddles and find five more items scattered throughout the castle to concoct a potion that finally will take care of the dragon and release the beauty.

Overall, three difficulty levels are available for each adventure, for a time-consuming total of 54 riddles hidden within 30 locations.

Never distracting the player with licensed characters or concentration-breaking theme music and chatter, the I Spy series succeeds thanks to an addictive format that will immediately stimulate but not desensitize a child’s brain.

I Spy Fantasy, Scholastic Inc, $19.99, cross-compatible for PC and Macintosh 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).

DOUBLE DELIGHT

HERE ARE TWO MULTIMEDIA OR ENTERTAINMENT ITEMS TO TRY:

• Alice in Wonderland: The Masterpiece Edition, by Buena Vista Home Entertainment for DVD-enabled home entertainment centers and computers, $29.99. Another animated classic gets the royal digital-video treatment by the house that Mickey built, giving children and parents an awesome evening of entertainment.

The 1951 cartoon version of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 story about a little girl who fell down a rabbit hole starred the voices of actors Ed Wynn, Sterling Holloway and Kathryn Beaumont, giving theatergoers 75 minutes of songs and colorful imagery.

The two-disc set features the entire pristine-looking film plus plenty of additions to get the clan involved in Alice’s world.

Disc one contains the film, a 1936 cartoon short “Thru the Mirror,” a couple of karaoke-style singalongs and previously unreleased footage of the Cheshire Cat’s song “I’m Odd,” introduced by the modern-day Miss Beaumont.

Also on the disc, the kooky Mad Hatter hosts an activity-laden musical-theater-type presentation combining live action with text pages and animations that beckon children to make cookies, use teapots as musical instruments and take part in dances or a round of Mad Hatter Says.

The historian in the family will love the second disc, which presents the first Disney TV special from 1950, loaded with memories and hosted by ventriloquist Edgar Bergan, his pals and Miss Beaumont; excerpts from the 1951 “Fred Waring Show” debuting the Wonderland compositions for television audiences in a live format; and a 1923 silent short that mixes animation with live action as Walt gives Alice a tour of his art studio.

The crammed package even contains a 32-piece matching card game to keep the youngest fans entertained and their noggins exercised after the main feature.

• Star Wars: Flight of the Falcon, by THQ for Game Boy Advance, $29.99. A brave soul takes control of Han Solo’s favorite hunk of junk to battle the Empire in a vehicular-based adventure that never plays as good as it looks.

Featuring 14 combat missions consistent with plot points from the fourth, fifth and sixth “Star Wars” chapters, the game demands that an unending stream of hurt be placed upon the Emperor’s minions to the ominous tones of John William’s “Imperial March.”

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