- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 13, 2004

In a world of ultraviolent video games, where dexterity of the thumb and index finger is infinitely more important than flexing 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 little girl adventurer takes children on a magical journey while teaching them a bit about numbers, music and colors in Dora the Explorer: Fairytale Adventure.

Nick Jr.’s animated star really shines in this CD-ROM tale that combines cartoon segments with musical interludes. This perfect simulation of the show has Dora accomplish multiple tasks and turn into a princess to wake up Boots, who has been under a sleeping spell by a wicked witch.

All she has to do is find the dragon’s four magic rings, get some magic rocks to sing, turn winter into spring and then bring the moon to the king and queen. Hey, no problem when the 5-and-older crowd gets involved.

What distinguishes this title from the routine “click and explore to find an activity” fare seen in many a learning CD-ROM is multiple layers of game depth that eventually leads to eight challenges and a pair of art programs.

High production values also help with a wide range of narration, singing and instructional vocals in both English and Spanish to reinforce lessons.

One of the best examples of the dynamic presentation arrives as the child points Dora toward a path to coax a set of oblong boulders to sing. She first encounters a locked door created by the witch to block her way. She must visit the Gingerbread Man, hanging outside his house, to find the Switchy Star to open the triangular lock.

While in this area, the child can discover a book icon over the gingerbread house that leads to a 12-page, narrated storybook chronicling the Gingerbread Man. Each black-and-white page has the option of being colored onscreen with a rather robust paint program.

She then encounters a giant in need of some help rescuing his pet dog, cat and hamster. That leads the child to a fairly complicated maze game where he must have Dora move boulders around to clear herself a path to each animal in three separate mazes.

After she finds all of the pets, she and the giant arrive at the line of boulders and, with the help of her music box, get the stones to join her in a musical production number.

That’s not all. The child can now hear 14 other songs from the music box or use the rocks as vocalizing instruments to make and record his own songs.

As the player walks Dora down other candy-encrusted paths in Fairytale land, she will come across other challenges to work with color and size matching, counting, reading and honing listening skills.

The entertaining program features screen actress Chita Rivera as the voice of the witch and even comes with a 3-inch Dora figure.

Dora the Explorer: Fairytale Adventure, Atari, $19.99. (For PC with Windows 98, 98SE, Me, 2000 or XP 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, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail ([email protected] washingtontimes.com.

Double delight

Here are two multimedia or entertainment items to try:

• The Incredibles by THQ Inc. (For Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube, $39.99.)

Pardon the obvious pun, but this third-person action game is just not that incredible.

The single-player game is based on the Disney/Pixar film of the same name about a retired superhero returning to glory.

The environments look great, the explosions plentiful and most characters are authenticated by the voices of the original actors, but a game about a film that boasts the importance of teamwork and family just begs for multiple players to get involved as the Incredibles’ clan tries to stop Syndrome and his henchmen.

Additionally, in the days where video games routinely extend the plots and mythologies of films, I expected developers Heavy Iron Studios to use director Brad Bird’s rich universe of characters that are only hinted at in the dazzling movie.

Unfortunately, the solo player gets a rather routine experience as he mainly controls Mr. Incredible — with occasional short levels devoted to Elastigirl, Violet and Dash — as he pummels robots and deals with his expansive waistline.

I will offer on the positive side that the 10-year-old demographic should enjoy mirroring the cartoon confrontations of the film. The player can work through 18 missions, watch clips from the movie and use supercool powers such as blinding speed and elasticity.

It should be noted that the game is rated for teenagers, but I can find no real reason for this, since the violence is nowhere near as graphic as games labeled with the same rating, and I can not believe a 13-year-old would stay interested enough to finish all of the missions.

With games such as X-Men: Legends, Shrek 2 and Pikmin 2 hanging around, only the die-hard Incredible fan will find anything super about this title.

• Bionicle 2: Legends of Metru Nui from Buena Vista Home Entertainment. (For DVD-enabled home entertainment centers and computers, $29.99.)

LEGO’s famous race of buildable beings returns to the digital video realm in a computer-generated epic that explores the roots of the Bionicle legacy through the events that transformed six villagers into Toa heroes.

According to the LEGO Web site: “When mysterious dark forces threaten the city of Metru Nui, Toa Lhikan gives six Matoran the tools and responsibilities of new Toa. These guardians must quickly master their new powers, demonstrate their worth to their honorable leader Turaga Dume, retrieve the hidden Great Kanoka Disks and rescue the inhabitants of their island city.”

Parents, I have no idea what this stuff means, either, but the animation looks fantastic and the 75-minute story will maintain the interest of even non-Bionicle fans.

Extras on the disc include an exploration of areas within Metru Nui and a behind-the-scenes look at the production (down to even how LEGO parts are made). A product promotional blitz will cost parents at least another $20 as they immediately rush out to toy stores to buy Bionicles for their mesmerized children.

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