- The Washington Times - Friday, October 28, 2005

Web exclusive

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 20-year-old game is re-imagined and returns to give children a chance to save the galaxy with arithmetic in Math Blaster: Master the Basics.

Children 6 to 12 years old quickly learn that evil robots have hypnotized humans into forgetting anything to do with mathematics. An elite group from the Blaster Corps is called in to use numbers to defeat the mechanical menaces by Amy, an artificial intelligence program created to help protect humanity.

The game uses classic arcade-style challenges to help hone addition, subtraction, multiplication and division skills as children solve problems, recognize equivalents and identify fact families.

The player first selects from eight challenges broken into four difficulty levels and then controls the blue-haired Blaster, who visits Earth, Saturn and Pluto to destroy generators and bosses to free human colonies.

Success requires quick thinking in the areas of number recognition and problem-solving along with speedy hand-eye coordination as the player might use the computer’s arrow keys to hop on platforms and collect numbers to complete an equation or run through environments and choose proper problem pathways to escape from robots chasing him.

Blaster also has at his disposal a set of power gloves that can help stun the enemy and destroy the barriers that get in the way of the mathematical fun.

Additionally, the hero must charge ionic energy globes by grabbing the correct sequence of numbered plasma balls and must ride a space cycle, destroying potentially damaging asteroids and shooting correct answers to more problems whizzing by as he travels to another planet.

The game design mixes antiquated graphics (comic-book-style illustrations fueled with narration and sound effects) to further the story with decent-looking 3-D imagery set in a mainly side-scrolling, linear shooter universe.

Children definitely will get a disguised math lesson through the action, but once they conquer an adventure of about 30 missions, they must choose a new level, which basically rehashes the same story, only with more difficult problems.

Overall, Math Blaster can be an addictive and fun experience, but it needs much more variation to make it a worthy purchase when compared against the amount of free online numerical games available.

Math Blaster: Master the Basics from Knowledge Adventure, $29.99, for Windows 2000/XP computer system.

Trio of multimedia treats

SpongeBob SquarePants: The Complete Third Season, from Paramount Home Entertainment for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, $49.99.Nickelodeon’s popular porous Porifera continues to enthrall the youth of America with his Krabby Patty-producing ways. The latest DVD collection presents 37 episodes crammed into three discs, giving tykes almost eight hours of undersea shenanigans.

Episode plots range from Plankton seeing what it’s like to be Mr. Krabs to famed hero Barnacleboy turning to the Dark Side to Patrick and SpongeBob being tasked with painting Mr. Krabs’ house.

I was a bit disappointed with the lack of extras but still appreciated a tutorial on how to draw the characters and pop-up trivia tracks on three episodes. Who knew SpongeBob and Sandy’s hilarious karate sessions were inspired by Inspector Clouseau and Kato from the “Pink Panther” films?

Scooby-Doo Unmasked, from THQ for PlayStation 2, rated E: content suitable for ages 13 and older, $29.99. Pop culture’s paranormal-investigating, petrified pooch returns to video-game land to help rescue Fred’s cousin from living monster costumes.

Nostalgia will flow for older players as they watch a 3-D representation of a classic Scooby Doo cartoon complete with laugh track, familiar sound effects and all of the characters they love cavorting across spook- and creature-filled environments.

The single player controls the Great Dane, who bounces, skids, climbs and spins his way out of trouble while collecting those coveted Scooby Snacks. The dog also can dress in costumes, converse with characters and find ingredients so Shaggy can assemble a hot pepper, ham and chocolate sandwich (which happens to give the pooch extra health).

Scooby owners also can access monster profiles and character art in a standard action platformer that will thrill the younger Mystery Inc. fans but not challenge hard-core gamers.

For a special treat, under the battle cry of “Holy-when-did-the-royalty-checks-stop-coming-in, Batman?” actor Adam West lends his voice to the villain Winslow Stanton while Mindy Cohn (Natalie Green from “The Facts of Life”) flexes her vocal cords in the role of Velma Dinkley.

Robots, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, $29.98.A star-studded voice-over lineup combines with slick animation to deliver a funny computer-generated movie from the makers of “Ice Age.” Released to theaters earlier this year, the movie tells the story of Rodney Copperbottom, a mechanical youngster from a factory town who aspires to be a great inventor in Robot City.

A fantastic solo DVD offers high-tech animation fans the 89-minute film as well as extras such as the four-minute short “Aunt Fanny’s Tour of Booty” (worth the price of the disc alone), deleted scenes, a trio of set-top games and insight into the rhythmic Blue Man Group.

PC owners get more interactive fun, including some exclusive high-definition video clips that can be viewed via Windows Media Player 10. Also included are two games, Gadget’s Chop Shop (children help Fender avoid getting dismantled as he runs along a spiral staircase) and Rush Hour (players maneuver a pinball called a Transport Sphere over precarious tracks).

Additionally, Xbox owners get an exclusive multiplayer racing game featuring the choice of robots driving those slick Transport Sphere pods seen in the film, the use of power-ups that can magnetically slow down opponents, a pair of speedy courses and a trio of competition modes, including collecting the most scrap metal while blasting orbs and junk out of the way.

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).

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