It’s every child’s dream to be able to play with their favourite TV characters. To them, they’re not pretend; they’re just as much a part of their reality as anything else. The talented folks at Double Fine have teamed up with Sesame Workshop to give kids the chance to play with their favourite Sesame Street monsters in a way that is not only nothing short of magic to them, but is also a lot of fun for adults as well.
Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster starts with a live action skit of Elmo and Cookie Monster discussing Cookie’s favourite storybook, Once Upon a Monster. They wind up entering the book, and must help the monsters in the story solve their problems. Each chapter of the book focuses on helping a specific monster with a problem, with each “page” of the chapter representing a minigame that helps Elmo, Cookie and friends on their way.
The first chapter has you helping Marco, a new monster, who is sad because no one came to his birthday party. Minigames in this chapter consist of guiding Elmo and Marco through an obstacle course, flying up a tree with Cookie Monster and Grover and helping Marco’s friends pick out costumes for the party. Later chapters have you doing things like helping the group clean a garden and put on a play.
The minigames are simple to understand and play. The game instructs you at the very beginning that you play each game standing in one spot and controls are never anything more complex than leaning, ducking, hopping or posing. Despite not requiring you to move your feet, the minigames still do a good job at getting kids active; one game that has you flapping your arms to fly does a pretty good job of wearing out adult arms, too.
The games don't let you fail; no matter what you do they will continue and the characters will constantly encourage you along the way. Anyone concerned about their little tykes getting frustrated at a game they can’t pass can lay their fears to rest. The entire game allows for multiplayer as well, so parents can join in and play any time.
The graphics do a fantastic job of mixing the iconic look of Sesame Street with a bright, colourful storybook. Right from the get-go, Once Upon a Monster treats players to a dazzling array of colourful locations that are sure to inspire awe in the eyes of younger fans.
The characters themselves are all animated faithfully to their puppet counterparts; Cookie Monster’s fingers move independently of each other while Grover’s arms dangle loosely as his hands move. Their fur looks so real you would swear you could touch it, and anyone just walking by would probably think you were watching an actual episode of Sesame Street.
The new monsters made up for the game fit in perfectly with the established cast. They don’t move quite like Muppets do, but their overall designs are appealing and charismatic. Kids already love Oscar the Grouch, but it won’t be surprising to hear them express adoration for the shy monster Seamus or the music-loving Tallulah as if they’d known them for years.
The game does a fantastic job at drawing players in, and kids will get a huge kick out of interacting with characters they could previously only watch. All voiced by their regular voice actors, they will often turn to the player and ask for advice or help and the Kinect’s microphone can be used to record voices to be put into the game. When Marco is presented with his birthday cake, a microphone will appear on screen asking everyone in the room to yell “happy birthday!” to Marco as if they were there.
The game is split into six chapters and each will take you about a half hour to get through. The game isn’t incredibly long, but it doesn’t need to be: kids will want to go back and replay their favourite games over and over, and the game embraces that. You can skip to any page you want at any time (once you’ve reached it in the story), requiring nothing more than a page-turning motion by the player. Children thrive on repetition and familiarity, so while adults may get turned off by the characters repeating the same lines on occasion, kids will get a kick out of it and might even learn something at the same time.
Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster is a shining example of what Kinect is really capable of. For a young child who loves Sesame Street, this game is a magic portal that really makes them a part of the fantasy. They won’t see a camera that’s recording their movements; they see Cookie Monster and Elmo talking to them and asking them to play along.
Even for adults, Once Upon a Monster is a heartwarming, captivating reminder of simpler times. Hardcore gamers will get nothing out of it, but it’s obvious that this game was not developed with them in mind. For those with children who dream of visiting Sesame Street, and even for those players who have a part of them that won’t grow up, Once Upon a Monster is truly a magical experience.