- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 8, 2004

In a world of ultraviolent 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 clumsy British superhero covertly teaches cartography, math and information technology to children in the pricey but rewarding adventure Captain Coordinate and the Lost Dinosaur Egg.

The software works well within a classroom or home-school environment as 7- to 9-year olds interact with slightly animated characters and take on challenges that entail more cerebral exercises than eye-popping entertainment.

After the child learns that a nearly hatched egg from a prehistoric beast has fallen off a transport plane headed for a secret research facility in Sordina Park, he must team up with the Captain to find a mystery character sympathetic to the scientific cause who is hiding the cracked orb from the Profit Twins — a pair of scoundrels who wish to steal it and use the hatchling in a circus act.

First, the player and hero visit the Black Gatto Forest, where they must find a clue to the whereabouts of the egg holder. This involves bringing up a cleverly displayed Maptop computer screen and calculating the distance of seven routes to get to the other side of the forest in the shortest distance possible.

As the action unfolds, players click on arrows to hear narration from the Captain, type in numbers to equations, access on-screen hot spots to grab clues and eventually visit a total of seven environments. These include the Trexby Lion Rescue Center, where they direct the Captain to specific cages while learning how to use a compass.

Players take bus rides to understand timetables, read a clock face, piece together maps of Yorkshire, fix the Eggham database to crunch clues and learn about sequencing and error checking, and read street maps as compared to aerial views while in the egg-sitter’s neighborhood.

The graphics can not compete with those of Disney or Vivendi Universal, but the skills reinforced are certainly important and worth visiting with the Captain.

Three difficulty levels, an option to bypass the story and just work on the activities, printable teaching aids and a fantastic progress interface for parents and educators will keep the program fresh during and away from the computer action.

Captain Coordinate and the Lost Dinosaur Egg, Sherston Software Limited, $79.99, cross-compatible for PC and Macintosh systems.

Young girls will be enthralled by the ocean adventures of Barbie, Mattel’s legendary doll, but parents may feel a bit shortchanged after spending $20 and 40 minutes on it.

Barbie’s Mermaid Adventure presents the blond gal pal and her favorite sea horse, Samika, as they attempt to find rainbow dolphins to illuminate a magical shell for an undersea celebration. While searching three environments and taking part in seven simple challenges, the player enjoys action peppered with slick graphics and Caribbean musical elements.

Activities such as pairing dancing fish, finding joke-telling clown fish, rocking baby “cuddle fish” to sleep and designing custom jewelry will spike the “cute meter,” but a lack of difficulty levels with brutal load times (that last longer than some of the challenges) will limit the game to strictly hard-core, 5-year-old Barbie fans.

Barbie’s Mermaid Adventure, Vivendi Universal Games, $19.99, cross-compatible for PC and Macintosh systems.

ROMper Room is a column devoted to finding the best of multimedia “edutainment.” Calls, letters or faxes about a particular column or suggestions for future columns are always welcome. 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).

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