- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 22, 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 cardiologist-turned-software developer gives children the chance to get in touch with emotions in Ultimate Learning: Fun With Feelings.

Dr. Jeffrey Weisman has children 5 to 11 years old use their observational, listening and word skills to select proper responses about emotional states while viewing everyone from sad babies to proud soldiers to terrified teenagers.

Through six sections of repeatable learning and three difficulty levels (the harder the level, the more questions), 20 feelings are revealed and explored with illustrations, sounds and photographs.

First, the player matches cartoons of people with verbal and text-based clues of the emotion demonstrated. Eventually, the player works up to characterizing sounds with feelings — screaming could denote anger, for example — and walking into a virtual room to identify the mental state of any occupants found there.

Children are rewarded for their efforts with cut screens displaying “You Did It” or audio nuggets declaring “Good job” as they answer queries relayed by an emotionless narrator.

Interspersed between quizzes are photo jigsaw puzzles and an extremely boring game in which the player must knock specifically colored stars out of the sky within a 30-second time limit.

Instead of trying to cater to a modern, tech-savvy child through dazzling graphics, licensed characters or even a sense of humor, the software offers bland presentations ripped from a clip-art collection, redundant theme music and the occasional game that looks like a refugee from the Pong era.

What ultimately ruins the title, however, is the price. These days, $50 can buy a bunch of multimedia teaching tools from the likes of LeapFrog, Fisher-Price, Riverdeep, Disney Interactive and Knowledge Adventure.

Unfortunately, Ultimate Learning: Fun With Feelings may work best in a guidance counselor’s office or a health class computer station where an educator insists that a child work through the challenge as a required assignment.

Ultimate Learning: Fun With Feelings, Digisoft , $49.99, compatible with Windows 95, 98, NT, 2000, ME or XP 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, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).




Families immersed in Nickelodeon’s cartoons to the point of knowing what musical instrument Squidward plays or being able to pick out Helga’s grating voice from “Hey Arnold!” will appreciate this digital video-quiz extravaganza boasting hundreds of animated clips and more than 500 trivia questions.

Up to four players use marking pens, Bingo-like cards with five ways to score, a DVD controller and the disc to get the action started. Players can click on 10 on-screen categories ranging from describing what happens next in an animated scene to identifying the character that does not belong in a cast photo.

After host SpongeBob SquarePants reads the question, the players shout out their answers, and the first to answer correctly crosses off that section on his or her game card.

To win, a player must correctly answer questions from three categories.

Although the challenge does a great job of highlighting minutia in shows such as “Fairly OddParents,” “Jimmy Neutron,” “Rocket Power,” “Rugrats” and “The Wild Thornberrys,” it leaves too much open to interpretation by the contestants.

Being the first to scream out the answer is way too subjective, and using a pen just seems so retro with the strides made in computer interactivity and DVD features. I would expect fistfights to break out regularly among competitive family members trying to decide who blurted out the answers first.

• “Peter Pan” by Universal Studios Home Entertainment, for DVD-enabled home entertainment centers and computers, $26.99.

The 100-year-old children’s tale from J.M. Barrie about the boy who wouldn’t grow up meeting the girl who must grow up made it to the big screen last year as a charming live-action film. The DVD release also should please, thanks not only to the 113-minute main feature, but also because of the bevy of behind-the-scenes bonuses.

After enjoying the dazzling effort starring Jeremy Sumpter as Peter and Jason Isaacs as Captain Hook, children can click on Board the Pirate Ship, Visit the Darling House, Explore the Neverland Forest, Enter the Black Castle, Dig Into the Home and Under the Ground.

They’ll enjoy short clips of production footage (my kingdom for a “play all” icon), a few extra scenes and the history of Pan hosted by Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson.

Alas, there are no games or trivia contests to keep the tykes amused or extend the reach of the DVD-ROM to the computer system, but still, the film and its deconstruction should suffice.

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