- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 8, 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.

Middle schoolers become virtual animal doctors in the educational, immersive simulation Zoo Vet.

This out-of-the-ordinary role-playing adventure has junior veterinarians successfully examining, diagnosing and treating 30 types of creatures, working toward a job offer at a medium-size world-class zoo.

The game begins as the player inputs his name, picks the decor for his office and is introduced to head vet Dr. Julia Sullivan and her vet techs, who concur with findings and assist the player during rounds.

The player also must pick a difficulty level, which greatly impacts his success during the medical proceedings. “Easy” basically walks the player through many of the examination choices, while “Difficult” assumes he has a fairly extensive knowledge base.

To get started with the animals, the junior doctor selects a map of the zoo and then finds animals including pandas, Komodo dragons and kangaroos. Green icons highlight the animals in need.

Once an icon is clicked, the player enters a simulation using 3-D computer-generated animation to show the animal and trainers. The vet has access to 25 click-and-drag medical tools broken down into categories including Examine, Monitor, Test, Maintain, Operate and Medicate.

A portable desktop assistant also appears on the right side of the screen, chronicling the steps taken by the doctor, the patient’s vital signs and its background.

The simulation does a spectacular job of walking the child through a doctor’s typical examination process. To give an idea of some of the case-study detail, here are my first two animal treatments:

First, I visited a 4-year-old female penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) that had an enlarged abdomen. After taking blood tests and an anterior X-ray of the abdomen, checking vital signs with a stethoscope and questioning the trainer, I knew that this penguin was a little mother-to-be carrying a developing egg called a gravid.

Next, a 10-year-old male African lion (Panthera leo) had hair loss and irritated skin on its back and tail. I immediately suspected fleas. After an examination including using a pulse oximeter attached to the ear to check the amount of oxygen in red blood cells, a fungal test on the back wound and Wood’s light to check for skin problems, I treated the flea infestation with topical medication and steroids in the lion’s food to keep him from itching.

The young vet eventually is exposed to the likes of hyperactivity because of hormones and a bacterial infection of the kidneys and even must surgically remove a benign tumor from the heel of a panda.

If that’s not enough, while sitting in his office, the child can play a matching game, take a multiple-choice animal trivia quiz, print out the official veterinarian’s oath, read up on all the patients and even get a primer on each of his tools.

Zoo Vet provides the perfect balance of learning, interaction in real-life situations and honing logic skills to make it one of the best animal care simulations on the market.

Zoo Vet from Legacy Interactive, $19.99, for Macintosh and PC systems.

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).

Double delight

Here are two multimedia items to try:

• Pixter Color Digital Camera from Fisher-Price, $29.99. Children who own the magically creative hand-held interactive device, the Color Pixter ($74.99), can add abstract photography to their burgeoning artistic expressions. This low-resolution camera attaches to the top of the Pixter unit and does a wonderful job of taking and storing up to 10 precious moments — in a barely distinguishable, highly pixilated form.

To duplicate the quality shown on the packaging, shots must be taken on the surface of the sun by a photographer with hands steadier than a neurosurgeon’s. A disappointing item at best, but if one considers the artistic possibilities of the Pixter overall, the camera fits right in as the 6-year-old stamps, doodles on, adds crazy effects and virtually frames his blurry masterpieces.

• Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, from Activision, for Xbox, PlayStation 2 and Game Cube, $49.99. This dismally dazzling third-person action game darkens home entertainment console screens as it relays and extends the story of the three unfortunate Baudelaire orphans as they battle their miscreant relative Count Olaf.

Based on the current movie and famed book series, the title’s 16 missions bring to life a brain-bending epic requiring a single player control Violet the inventor, Klaus the brave intellect and Sunny the biting baby.

Stylized, Tim Burton-inspired illustrations embellish the narration and combine with Violet’s Rube Goldberg inventions built to battle creatures and Olaf’s thugs. An assortment of creepy environments and noggin-sharpening puzzles will mesmerize the 10-year-old.

Fans also will appreciate that the stars of the film, Emily Browning, Liam Aiken and a surprisingly subdued Jim Carrey, vocally re-create their roles. Actor Tim Curry reprises his audio book role of narrator Lemony Snicket.

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