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Game Review

As much as this game's title might sound like a video game tie-in to Ben Stiller's cinematic Night at the Museum sequel, it's not. The two share a similar setting, and that's about it.

All the action of this hidden-object video game does take place in a museum—the National Museum of History to be exact. But compared to that movie's raucous repository, this building full of paintings and dinosaur bones is much more low key and quiet. (There's not a single talkative cowboy or stampeding statue to be found.)

Then an earthquake hits the city, and everything does become a bit more frazzled than normal.

Museum employee Susan Anderson just happens to be giving her daughter, Caitlin, a tour around the different exhibits when things start to rumble. So she hustles Caitlin off to the Security Room—the safest spot in the building—and then hurries to help panicked patrons. Unfortunately, falling debris knocks her unconscious. When she wakes up, she's all alone and the museum is a crumbling, jumbled mess.

Of course, a mussed museum makes a perfect playground for onscreen exploration and puzzle solving. And that's exactly what Susan must do to reach Caitlin and then, um, escape the museum.

Digging a Way Out
Gamers don Susan's professorial glasses and sensible loafers, and pick their way through 37 rooms, solving a series of object-based puzzles. Along the way they receive cell phone tips and PDA e-mail pointers from an outside structural engineer who miraculously knows exactly what Susan needs to search for (and who also supplies a handy map).

For instance, an impassible door, early on, is locked by an electric security system—so the engineer suggests that Susan short out the power panel. If only she could find some liquid to pour on it! So with just a bit of thought, you can search out a way to unearth an ancient coin, buy a soda from a nearby machine and get your digital hands on the required short-circuiting fluid.

Other challenges include putting pieces of ripped paintings back together or avoiding museum alarms by balancing the weight of certain artifacts (à la Indiana Jones' famous bag of sand). It's all pretty easy no matter what your age. So even if Dad steps out to check on the sports scores or to pop a batch of corn (with real butter), younger players can go on without missing a beat.

A Pain in the Eye
There is one repeated task, however, that some are apt to find difficult. That's the game's special "Find 10" hidden objects assignments. The museum's curator phones in from time to time, asking Susan to find and preserve specific sets of objects in some of the most devastated rooms. All manner of odds and ends have been heaped into piles, and you must closely search out the right bits amidst the disarray. (Where Susan pockets all the requested treasures, though, is a mystery for the ages.)

This task reminded me a lot of those Highlights children's magazines you often find in the dentist's or doctor's office. They always seem to include a page where kids have to find everything from a comb to a xylophone secreted away in a picture. In the Wii version of Escape that I played, however, this quest was often a pretty tough nut to crack.

The cluttered picture on my TV screen was visually indistinct and the search became eye-straining. Not only that, but some item descriptions are so vague that I wasn't sure what to look for. When asked to find a "sub" and "shades," do you look for a deep-sea diving craft and a pair of sunglasses or a lampshade and a sandwich?

And beyond the eyestrain, parents will want to know that there are a few questionable sights—such as a bare-breasted female statue and a human family tree originating with near-naked ape-men.

But, for the record—in case you haven't been to one in a while—those are the kinds of thing you're guaranteed to see anytime you venture out to a real museum.

Wanna look the other way and race to rescue your daughter from disaster while invoking your inner treasure hunter? Can't do it, not at a museum, not with all those diligent docents blocking the way. But you can with Escape the Museum.

That's not me urging you to skip the family trip to your local institution of antiquities, of course. That's me saying it might be fun to play a little game ... afterwards.

Now, where's my old decoder ring ...

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