- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2008

The subject is fourth-grade modern history for $2,000. Quick, who succeeded Francisco Franco in November 1975 and established a constitutional monarchy in Spain?

A: Juan Carlos I

B: Juan De Borbon

C: Alfonso XIII

If you chose “B,” you lose. It was Juan Carlos I, and I know a virtual classroom full of kids who could offer some advice.

Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader: The Electronic Game (Techno Source, $29.99, requires three AA and two AAA batteries) brings the popular television show that tests adult players’ knowledge for cash into the entertainment room.

The game’s premise of answering 11 questions based on first- through fifth-grade curriculums to win $1 million is fun to watch. It’s even more fun to play in a family setting because adults often don’t remember the minutia from their early years while children have it ingrained at the forefront of their craniums.

Action emulates the show, complete with theme music, effects and the ability to get help from virtual schoolchildren, but sans host Jeff Foxworthy.

A main chalkboard-style module sits on a table and has illuminated money bars (from $1,000 to $1 million), and a backlit LCD screen showing the subject categories and questions that scroll, ticker-tape-style across a panel. Questions are easily answered via the buttons on a wireless controller.

Up to four family members or teams can participate as they answer multiple-choice and true-or-false questions based on 10 out of a possible 13 random school categories, including math, ancient history, science and technology, language arts, and literature. Keeping the game replayable are the 2,500 questions in its memory.

So how good are you on fifth-grade geography for $25,000? What percentage of Earth’s water area does the Arctic Ocean hold?

A: 3

B: 30

C: 47

If you don’t know the answer, you can “peek” at a classmate’s answer. Be careful, though, you only get to use this option once per round, and if you choose their answer and it’s wrong, you lose the round.

The player also can choose to “copy” a classmate’s answer. You don’t get to see it first; you just have to trust that they will get it right.

A last chance using more virtual “classmate” help is the “save” option. Get an answer wrong and you have the option of asking a grade-schooler to save your cash, but only once.

Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader is a fun trivia challenge and great, early education game. My only complaints are that the display is hard on older eyes and the sound quality is horrific. (The chalkboard screen will tilt to accommodate bifocals and you can turn down the volume.)

And, by the way, the Arctic Ocean accounts for 3 percent of the Earth’s water area. Thankfully, a peek at young Penny’s answer helped.

Game Bytes

Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood (for Nintendo DS, Sony Sega, $34.99) - The blue gaming legend and his pals return to tackle the role-playing genre with a new adventure loaded with strategy, but a bit too light on speed.

You read right, it’s a plodding RPG. That means talking to characters, maintaining an inventory, equipping characters, handling those repetitive side missions, purchasing items and fighting enemies in turn-based battles. Because we’re with Sonic, it also means collecting rings and occasionally performing some of the hedgehog’s characteristic gravity-defying moves.

BioWare, the developer of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, creates a pretty playground, especially for the younger player, as he chooses a team with up to a four characters to explore 20 hand-painted landscapes and confront members of the Nocturnus clan.

The stylus orchestrates nearly all of the action on the DS touch screen as pointing and tapping on icons lead to actions such as dashing, teleporting, climbing and flying and a full complement of fight maneuvers.

In addition to Sonic, such familiar legends as Tails, Knuckles, Rouge, Amy Rose, Shadow and new character Shade the Echidna are available for use. Each has a long list of helpful attributes and help balance a team in any situation.

Features include collecting a Pokedex worth of Chao creatures to power up heroes, special battle moves delivered with animated scenes, a wide variety of equippable items and a varied list of enemies, including enraged armadillos, giant scorpions, laser drones and wasp swarms.

Unfortunately, Sonic veterans will not find the action frenetic or varied enough for their tastes and will fondly remember the days of high velocity side-scrolling with their favorite speed demon.

Mega Man 9 (Capcom, for PlayStation 3, $9.99; Xbox 360, 800 Microsoft points; and Wii, 1000 Wii points) - Another blue gaming legend returns to tickle the nostalgic synapses of humans who remember how bad video games used to look.

Hey, the 1980s had its moments, and when the mighty Mega Man first graced the Nintendo NES, it was an amazing experience for the gamer trapped in a pixilated, two-dimensional universe.

Freezing that moment in time, the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade and Wii Channel offer a brand new downloadable adventure for the hero, authentic down to varied battles, complex side-scrolling level designs, inventive arsenals and a terribly limited sound track (plenty of beeps).

With eight bosses to beat, more than a dozen new missions and an arsenal of weapon upgrades (gotta love the energy tanks), Mega Man must clear the name of Dr. Light, whose robots have begun rioting all over the world. Surely, the evil Dr. Wiley is involved.

Of most interest to fans: Original Mega Man character designer Keiji Inafune has returned to develop the more than 50 new enemies and bosses.

It’s definitely a game for a niche audience. Younger players will find little to appreciate with the graphics, casual gamers will find the title very difficult and only the most reverent old-schoolers will bow to this interactive Mega Man shrine.

* Send e-mail to jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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