Saturday, February 28, 2004

In a world of violent 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 take a magical journey to Egypt to conquer mathematics and find a lost pet with the help of The Flying Carpet. Offering the perfect mixture of thinking action and clever skill-building games, this simulation gives 8- to 12-year-olds an exhaustive look at topics including geometry, time, measurement, money and scales.

After signing in, the player chooses a dog, cat, cow or teddy bear as a traveling companion and takes a trip to the land of the pharaohs. After crossing the Nile, accomplished by collecting enough coins through a series of arithmetic challenges to pay the driver, the player enters Cairo, and the trouble begins.

My cow, Fred, wandered off down a side street, and I was introduced to a lemon-shaped pal with a Scottish accent named Faruit to narrate the action and help me find my bovine. Seeking a flying carpet became the first order of business, and more coin collections were required, gained by playing games ranging from cracking a safe through subtraction to converting gold to silver coins with a multiplication drill.

Once the carpet is secured, the player can travel about, hitting the desert, an oasis, pyramids and a sphinx, performing plenty of number-crunching drills along the way. Short animated segments play between collecting items, while players explore through Myst-like navigation.

The Flying Carpet also offers a variety of activities, so the player is never bored. If I wasn’t throwing darts at a numbered board to acquire a specific total or answering a battery of addition problems, I could read the Alega News for a bit of Egyptian history or practice tunes on a piano.

When the Swedish software worked — I found some horrendously buggy situations when loading it on a PC with Windows XP but had much better luck with the Windows 98 and ME systems — it offered a brow-furrowing experience of problem-solving that occasionally required paper and pencil. However, this pricey CD-ROM program might be a bit too expensive for the average consumer, who can just as easily pick up Knowledge Adventure’s Math Blaster series or Scholastic Inc.’s Math Missions: The Race to Spectacle City Arcade.

The Flying Carpet, Tool Factory Inc., $59.99, For PC, WIndows 95 and later systems.

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, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (


Here are two multimedia or entertainment items to try:

• Lilo and Stitch: Island of Adventure, by Buena Vista Home Entertainment for DVD-enabled home entertainment centers and computers, $29.99. The DVD merges with a traditional board game as families get to click into the world of a little girl and her blue alien friend as they try to capture some mischievous extraterrestrials.

After opening the package and unfolding a colorful board, assembling vehicle-shaped cardboard pieces, collating game pieces called “pogs” with mug shots of the troublemakers, and popping in the special DVD, up to six players can interact with the on-screen high jinks presented in a cartoony format that looks exactly like Disney’s animated film.

The goal is to move the tokens around five lush Hawaiian environments, collecting pogs along the way. The winner is whoever has the most pogs when any player reaches the finish line. Pogs are rewarded or taken away when the player lands on certain board spaces and on-screen instructions are sung, bellowed or acted out.

In addition to containing two episodes (“Mr. Stenchy” and “Clip”) from the current cartoon series, the DVD guides the action by using a randomizing function that acts as a spinner and determines the number of spaces a player moves. An animated card picker is activated with the enter and arrow buttons on the console’s controller.

Activities range from a 20-second scavenger hunt in which the player must find a household item to a shell game to being forced to perform an Elvis imitation to answering a trivia question on Hawaii — all to receive those valuable pogs.

A typical game can take more than an hour for three players to complete, but players can choose to enjoy a shorter game starting at the middle of the board. Overall, this seamless integration of media environments makes for a wonderful evening of fun for even the youngest players and makes the dreaded couch potato think and move while enjoying the shenanigans of some favorite characters.

• Gotcha Force, by Capcom for GameCube, $39.99. A little boy and his friends team up with more than 200 action-figure-size robotic pals to stop an invasion of Safari Town by the Death Force in this “for the young at heart” third-person 3-D fighting challenge.

Featuring the acquisition addiction and Japanese animation style of Pokemon with multiple multiplayer modes, the game will not astound with its graphical presentations but rather through its ability to share Transformer-type borgs (via memory cards) and build specialty forces to attack enemies and through its overall theme of teamwork.

The 6- to 10-year-old crowd will love the simple control schemes and colorful battles, while parents will appreciate that it’s only a video game — there’s no fear of having to open wallets to buy booster packs, rare cards and collectible tokens.

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