- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 22, 2005

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 demon from hell teaches children fun with mathematics in the bizarre adventure The Number Devil.

The folks who put together Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster have developed an addictive introduction to mathematical concepts for children 8 years old and older.

This wisecracking character with horns, red jacket and black capezios who sweats numbers visits a math-frustrated student named Robert in his dreams. The storybook-looking world unfolds to the child over 10 nighttime experiences.

Through 2-D cel-shaded animation, snappy dialogue and perplexing challenges and puzzles, the player becomes familiar with math staples such as Roman numerals, prime numbers, Pascal’s triangle and the concept of infinity.

The action begins when the visitor with the pointy goatee stops by and takes Robert to environments such as beaches, caverns, a rabbit-infested field and the ancient pyramids to lecture and badger him about the amazing patterns found in the numerical system.

While Robert listens and queries the Devil, the player gets to solve traditional chalkboard equations and view slick number theory. At the end of each night, a game is offered to reinforce concepts.

The fifth night was one of the more entertaining as Robert vacationed on a desert oasis in Egypt and began to understand the mysteries of triangle numbers. The player ends up solving math problems, experiencing numerical patterns found in the three-point designs and ultimately dropping specified numbers of coconuts into a box using pincers during a timed challenge.

The Devil encourages the use of an on-screen calculator for some of the heavy-duty number crunching and a pencil with paper for most of Robert’s restless slumber.

The game stuttered a bit on the Windows XP-loaded PC I used and refused to load on my Macintosh system even though the Mac clearly had the required system setup.

However, once parents get the adventure up and running, their child will be up and running, too, as he visits the magical world of numbers.

The Number Devil from Viva-Media, $29.99, For PC with Windows 98/ME/XP system.

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).

Two much fun

Here is a duo of multimedia items for DVD-enabled home entertainment centers and computers:

• The Land Before Time: Invasion of the Tinysauruses, from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, $29.99. The 16-year-old animated dinosaur franchise lives on with a new adventure featuring songs, the voices of Michael Clarke Duncan and Camryn Manheim, and a smattering of extras for the youngest DVD connoisseur in the family.

The Great Valley has gotten smaller after a band of pint-size mussauruses and a pair of raptors stop by to complicate the life of Littlefoot the apatosaurus and his pals Cera the triceratops, Ducky the parasaurolophus, Spike the stegosaurus and Petrie the pterodactyl. During the 81-minute feature, honesty is questioned, friendships are strained, and the true nature of heroes comes to light as the traditionally animated gem explores a gaggle of family-friendly themes.

The “Land Before Time” series always has been strong on song, and the DVD does not disappoint with access to nine sing-along selections culled from the numerous cartoon productions.

Unfortunately, popping the DVD into the PC led to no extra content, even though one of the bonus feature segments clearly explains to children that tons of awesome features should exist in computer land.

• Mary Poppins: 40th Anniversary Edition, from Buena Vista Home Entertainment, $29.99. Disney celebrates the Academy Award-winning 1964 film that beautifully merged song, dance, live action and animation by releasing a two-disc DVD set loaded with memories and music.

Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke starred in the film about a nanny who could make work a magical experience. After watching the 139-minute gem, watch it again with commentary added by the legendary stars. Also, the pair have a 20-minute sit-down with co-composer Richard Sherman.

Under the topic of deconstruction, cinema enthusiasts get an optional pop-up trivia track, Mr. Van Dyke’s makeup test, lots of behind-the-scenes footage and a 50-minute making-of documentary.

Additionally, Disney throws in (just to prove its pop-culture might) a new 10-minute cartoon, “The Cat That Looked at a King,” hosted by Miss Andrews and starring the voices of Sarah Ferguson and Tracey Ullman.

A spoonful of sugar is not needed to devour this DVD masterpiece.

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