- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 27, 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 pair of famous superhero worlds combine might with a hand-held gaming system to assist children in learning math, reading and language arts as The Incredibles and Spider-Man join the Leapster Multimedia Learning universe.

The 4- to 8-year-old owners of LeapFrog’s portable unit that uses game cartridges, a stylus pen, a 3-inch square backlit screen, 12-bit animated color graphics, buttons and a directional pad to teach and entertain will find hours of fun interacting with the pop culture stars.

In Spider-Man: The Case of the Sinister Speller, first- and second-graders become part of an animated and interactive story of heroics as the famed web slinger must stop a pair of archenemies bent on causing chaos in New York by rearranging the letters on signs.

A combination of reading via touching hot spots on the screens with the stylus, clicking on characters to hear their woes and clicking on words to hear them pronounced alone makes for quite a dynamic presentation.

However, a red Spidey beacon appears five times during the story in the corner of the screen which signals the chance to take part in a game.

Timed challenges range from collecting cash for shooting pictures of misspelled signs, cracking security by finding permutations of a word and unscrambling words by dragging letters on a notebook page to help Spider-Man decipher signs.

Additionally, all is not learning as the player gets a chance at the end of the adventure to shoot webs at some nefarious thugs who appear on screen.

Successful players are also rewarded with secret codes that will access special features such as computer wall paper and a printable Spidey mask at the LeapFrog Leapster Web site (https://www.leapfrog.com/ do/environment?environment=leapster&ageGroupKey;=preschool).

The cartoon presentations, pair of difficulty levels, lively voice over work, sound effects and even complete 1960s Spider-Man theme song brings immersive validity to the onscreen fun and will definitely keep junior riveted to his Leapster.

Next, Pixar/Disney’s box office smash The Incredibles turns into a learning simulation for the second and third graders as a family of superheroes need help to outwit the evil villain Syndrome.

Unlike the Spider-Man title, the story unfolds as animated segments with no interactivity and relies on a series of five games to keep junior honing his math and language skills.

After some background as to the origins of The Incredibles, players can select a game associated with each of the four family members or a game which requires the quartet of heroes work together to stop the villain.

Selecting Mrs. Incredible, for example, finds her stuck in a door at the inner compound of Syndrome. The player must choose a difficulty level and then direct the super-stretchy hero to grab letters from rapidly closing doors to spell words directed by the narrator.

Other challenges include Mr. Incredible using his extraordinary strength to move numbered boulders in position to solve equations, Violet using invisibility to sneak past guards in a maze and grab nouns to complete sentences and Dash using super speed to collect multi-digit numbers and help hone numerical place value skills.

Those familiar with the movie will appreciate the voice-over work, soundtrack and adherence to the story as the themes of teamwork and logical thinking permeate throughout the action.

Spider-Man: The Case of the Sinister Speller ($19.99) and The Incredibles ($24.99) from LeapFrog. Cartridges requiring Leapster Multimedia Learning System ($69.99)

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).

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