- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2009

Educational activities on Hannah Montana (\$29.99) for Leapfrog’s Didj Custom Gaming System are like a good teen pop song — short and sweet.

Mimicking story lines through images from the hit Disney television show, the game starts with Miley Cyrus‘ dad, Billy Ray, holding a ticket to Hannah’s next tour, saying “No performance unless you get those grades up by Friday.”

Girls ages 8 to 10 enter Miley’s virtual world via her day planner where they find a list of school chores and interactions with characters from the show that need to be completed.

For the first four days of the week, the planner is chock full of multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank exercises that challenge spelling, math and word definition, skills wrapped within the cocoon of very fun games.

In “Math Moves,” Miley stands next to a nine-square grid on her bedroom floor. A math question pops up, along with a fast-moving timer. Answer the math question by moving Miley to the correct answer on the grid. Then, move Miley from square to square having her perform some dance moves. The more complex the moves and the speed in answering the question work together to earn more star points, which can be used to purchase new wardrobe items or stage effects from the Pop Star Store.

The question requires math skill, but getting Miley to each of the nine squares and prompting her to perform a dance move by punching in various A-B sequences is really hard. It’s a complete change in train of thought as players go from a number/mind challenge to using total reflex and memory skills.

Other games include “Text Mess-Up” where players read messages from various Hannah Montana co-stars, only something is not quite right. Players click on the “wrong” word and find the right words based on verbal prompts. Choose the right word and receive those valued star points.

Other star-point-earning games include “Musical Spelling” wherein fast-moving stars, each with a different letter, move by on a chalkboard’s music grid. The stars fall on different lines and the task has two games. In the first, players need to move the cursor up and down the grid, hoping to burst as many of the stars as possible. In the second, the first two or three letters of a word appear, not unlike a game of Hangman, with the rest of the letters left blank. Players must capture the stars with the right letters on them to complete the word.

One of the more brain-bending games features word problems based on time management and scheduling. These range from questions such as “If it is 2 p.m. and Miley needs to be at rehearsal by 6:45, how much time does she have to go to the mall with Lily?” to “Miley orders a new costume on July 12th for a concert on August 29th. How many days does the seamstress have to finish it?”

At the end of each day’s planner tasks, Miley retires to her room where there is a jukebox playing her hits (almost-complete songs that sound great), a photo album and magazine featuring photos from the show. Play more games to collect more pictures from Miley and Hannah’s worlds.

Once those four days of curricula-based challenges are met, Miley is ready to take the big test. A multiple-choice challenge, players must answer a dozen or so questions correctly to pass and be able to perform a show.

Pass the test and get ready for the concert by visiting the Pop Star Store and spending those hard-earned star points on clothing, stage lights, backdrops, dance moves and the songs Hannah Montana will sing. Players become show producers as they customize the show to their specifications, changing the song, dance moves, stage settings and her clothing choices.

Another feature of the game is that players can choose “Free Play” games where they can challenge themselves to math, spelling, speed and word definition games outside the framework of the story.

The ambitious effort does not end there. Those accustomed to the Didj system know the player can connect the hand-held device to the computer to download customized spelling and math lists. They also can spend Bitz (the Didj currency awarded for exceptional game play) to add to Miley’s wardrobe and stage effects.

Joseph Szadkowski’s ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to [email protected]