- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 2, 2007

Each week, the Browser features some pop-culture places on the World Wide Web offering the coolest in free interactive sounds and action.

Cartoon Network has extended the life of its slick, yearlong interactive online game experiment, Big Fat Awesome House Party (https://awesome houseparty.com), for another six months to give fans of the popular series “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” a cyber-stop worthy of the crazed cartoon.

The site, hosted by the blue blob of hot air, Blooregard Q. Kazoo, offers visitors the chance to design their own imaginary friend and explore Foster’s elaborate mansion to discover plenty of games and activities.

The Foster fan first must register with a unique user name and password and provide the state in which he or she lives along with a month and day of birth before getting to the fun.

Next, the visitor names and assembles an avatar by mixing and matching a selection of heads, faces, arms and legs from four types of friends. The little fellow I created looked like a mutated Oscar Mayer wiener with six eyes, long hair and green, stocking-covered feet.

After my guy was dropped off in front of the mansion, he walked in, and Noteworth Bookingham welcomed the new friend with some kind words and basic instructions, i.e., the few keyboard commands used to navigate the action.

The avatar eventually meets Foster’s main cast of Frankie, Mr. Harriman, young boy Mac (owner of Bloo), and Wilt, the tallest friend. They explain the house rules, and then he explores the seven levels of the house using stairs, elevator and secret passages, with the show’s frenetic theme song alive in the background.

It’s really a complex role-playing video game in disguise, or sort of a less-complicated Second Life simulation for younger players, featuring text dialogue between characters and requiring tasks such as performing favors for friends, having to complete three chores a day (friends can be called in to help), moving furnishings into a personal bedroom and using an inventory menu area to view items.

Scavenger-hunt-like missions need to be completed to fill up Citizenship and Popularity meters and add pals to a Friendship bar. Once the Citizenship bar is full, the avatar can go on an adventure with Bloo, and a packed Popularity bar unlocks more of the 26 possible minigames.

For an example of the chores, I had to clean the telescope on the sixth floor, straighten five paintings on the third floor and leave the mansion to visit Mac’s apartment and turn off an alarm clock in a bedroom. Yes, my avatar can exit the grounds and eventually will be able to stop by the shopping mall, the junkyards and Mac’s school.

While I was in the Arcade, located in the lobby, games quickly available included a buried-treasure challenge and homage to Dig Dug called the Curse of the Blue Pearl, and Bloo’s Brothers, in which the player picks the real Bloo from among a group of bad clones.

Other features to the highly interactive House Party include the chance to collect video clips and to trade pass codes with a real pal so each person’s imaginary friend can show up in the other’s mansion.

Success in the arcade also rewards players with bonus content, such as photos to add to an image gallery and new music tracks, or tickets to be used in the mall to buy stuff.

Cartoon Network has gone above and beyond the call of duty with this free virtual immersion into one of the cooler family-friendly animated programs on the air.

Parents should note that the site is loaded with advertisements to watch Cartoon Network and buy lots of products. Also, the For Parents section of the site (usually reserved to explain what Cartoon Network does with the personal information it collects) was empty during my review.

Have a cool site for the online multimedia masses? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail ([email protected]). Joseph also writes a Web-exclusive column for the Washington Times Web site where he reviews educational software and family-friendly video games. Check it out at www.washingtontimes.com/ familytimes/romperroom.htm.

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