- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

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.

Children’s observational skills are challenged to the maximum as they go on virtual scavenger hunts in I Spy Mystery.

Inspired by the book by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick, the puzzler incorporates 13 case files within 56 colorful puzzle pages that have players exploring themed mixed-media illustrations to identify items tied to a riddle.

Intriguing names such as Mystery of Knight Fall, Mystery of the Locked Gate and Mystery of the Midnight Mouse lead to two levels of exploration. The first involves finding the requested objects, and the second solving a multistepped mystery using many of the case file clues.

For example, in Mystery of the Pirate’s Map, the player does not simply perform typical I Spy quests within five landscapes. The player must revisit areas to collect pieces of a map and discover the location of a key that will unlock a treasure.

The extended level of interactivity not only helps build vocabulary and direction-following skills, but also will captivate the 9-year-old in love with the thrill of discovery and accomplishment.

A giddy female narrator is on hand at all times to read the rhymed prose, reinforce the list of found items and instruct on the basics as well as pronounce every word that is clicked.

In addition to the cluttered and colorful imagery that may embed or disguise items, words and numbers react when found; and quests occasionally use binoculars, a magnifying glass and a microscope to offer a different perspective to the hunts.

Overall, I Spy Mystery delivers a cerebral escape from the world of video games through exercises that can entertain and teach some important skills, especially the ability to be aware of one’s environment, even if its just on-screen.

I Spy Mystery, from Scholastic Inc., compatible with Mac and PC systems, $19.99.

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, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail ([email protected]washingtontimes.com).

Trio of multimedia treats

• ‘The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition,’ from Walt Disney Home Entertainment for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, $29.99.

This 17-year-old Academy Award-winning Disney cartoon finally is celebrated in DVD realms in this two-disc set that delivers not only a digitally restored version of the film, but also a fantastic supply of extras.

The 83-minute musical comes loaded with familiar songs. Its pristine new look will cause animation fans’ eyes to water as they relive the adventures of Ariel, her discovery of love and her attempt to save her father’s undersea kingdom from a nasty purple octopus.

As for the bonus content, I cannot gush enough about the care taken by Disney to provide viewers an immersive and often educational experience as they partake in features that deconstruct the film and in a couple of extra activities.

A great optional commentary track by the directors and composer Alan Mencken leads the way on the first disc, while the second is spearheaded by an informative 45-minute making-of documentary.

Other multimedia moments include an early promotions reel of the film, art galleries, a classical-music-driven cartoon based on another of Hans Christian Andersen’s tales, “The Little Match Girl,” and an eight-minute “Disneypedia” that offers a lesson in marine biology.

My favorite extra is a virtual walk through a theme-park ride based on “The Little Mermaid” that never came to fruition. Of course, plenty of narrative information and sketches by the “imagineer” team complement the imagery.

• Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, from Square Enix for DS, rated E for everyone, $34.99. A monster species from the popular Dragon Quest video-game series stops by Nintendo’s hand-held system to give fans an action-packed, role-playing quest filled with goo.

Through an over-the-top perspective, a player assumes the role of an elasticized droplet that must rescue 100 residents of Boingburg who have been kidnapped by the evil Plobs.

To accomplish the task, the player roams through environments, talks to characters, unlocks pals stuck in chests and carries them to the nearest Trans-Slimenia Railway car or raft, or simply dumps them off at the entrance of the town. He also can collect a bunch of items and monsters (who reform) to send back to the town devastated by the Plob invasion.

As Slime denizens return, they help remove huge cast-iron boulders, which opens new places for the hero to visit.

In addition, some Monster battles occur in a slick, customizable tank challenge. Up to four Slime fans (each with a game card and DS) can take part in some wireless multiplayer fights.

The cartoony fun combined with humorous characters (the Plob boss has seen “The Godfather” too many times) will give younger players a time-consuming, enjoyable adventure.

• ‘Curious George,’ from Universal Studios Home Entertainment for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, $29.98. H.A. and Margret Rey’s inquisitive primate jumped to the silver screen this year in a fun animated feature that used the voices of Will Ferrell, Drew Barrymore and Dick Van Dyke. Its DVD equivalent does an adequate job of transforming the family film into an interactive experience through a set of multimedia activities.

After enjoying the 88-minute cartoon, young children will learn, step by step, how to draw and animate George and also learn some new words. Set-top interactives offer a virtual coloring book, a banana-counting challenge, a round of peekaboo with the famous monkey and a demonstration of a chameleon’s properties.

Popping the disc into a PC will get another set of multimedia adventures tied directly to the official “Curious George” movie site (www.curiousgeorgemovie.com), which includes more games, a quiz about George’s life, the ability to send an e-mail postcard and printable stickers and book covers.

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