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Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster review

Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster  - 870567

When making an education-based game for kids, developers usually have to draw a pretty restrictive line.  They have to make sure that these children are learning something from their games, but as a result, they often sacrifice what makes it so entertaining to begin with.  We’ve seen this in countless examples over the years, including games for Wii, NES, Sega Genesis, and more.  You’d think someone would be able to cross that line and make something that feels like it can relate to kids and still find a way to be fun.

Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster 360 Kinect Screenshot

And so we have.  Double Fine, the team behind such mature-themed content as Brutal Legend and the recently released XBLA game Trenched (now named Iron Brigade), has teamed up with Sesame Street – an unlikely partner – to produce a worthwhile, new effort for Kinect that will keep kids pleased, as well as a few parents.  Sesame Street’s Once Upon a Monster is a magical little affair, one that makes fine use of Microsoft’s motion device when it comes to mini-games and moving forward in the interactive stories.  More companies should follow this example.

The story begins with Cookie Monster and Elmo bumping into each other on Sesame Street and looking over a monster storybook.  It contains a number of tales dealing with certain monsters, some of which are a little shy, others feeling like they’re out of place.  Working alongside the recognizable duo, you help these monsters out through a series of interactive mini-games, doing everything from dancing to guiding them through an obstacle-filled forest.  There are a number of episodes here, each one lasting about half an hour, and each one is worth checking out, from beginning to end.

You can credit Double Fine for creating some heart-felt stories, rather than just taking the easy way out with poor construction.  Not only does it feel like the monsters actually belong here, but they provide a few laughs as well.  And they’re intended for all ages – kids will have their fair share of amusing moments, but adults will enjoy the occasional wink in the eye directed at them.  (Nothing too far out of bounds, though – the game happily sits in place with its E for everyone rating.)

Let’s talk about the gameplay.  Double Fine has done an excellent job making all of the Kinect mini-games playable.  You’ll have no problem directing your monster and following on-screen directions, and if you get stuck, you won’t be penalized for learning something new.  What’s more, the game doesn’t take any sort of negative turn, so even if you don’t manage to complete a mini-game the best to your ability, you’ll still be able to move forward with a smile on your face. 

One thing, though – why are most of the stories unlocked?  The developers would have been better off opening up the whole game so users could skip around and do the stories in any order they please.  Just a thought for a future patch, maybe...

The game does eventually come to an end when you run out of stories, but you can always revisit them, should you want to collect some flowers you missed through the mini-games or just be able to spot Grover again.  (Why he wasn’t included more in the game is beyond us – he’s a monster, too!)  It’s definitely worth revisiting, and it never wears out its welcome.

I also need to give Schafer and her crew a mention when it comes to presentation.  Once Upon a Monster looks absolutely charming, whether you’re watching Cookie Monster bumble about or the newer monsters take part in the story.  The locales are always magical, never threatening, and really make you feel like you’re part of the action, rather than watching it on the sidelines (as in previous “edutainment” games).  The menu system is also convenient, though opening a book does take a little more practice than necessary.  (You have to pull out two flaps, rather than just flipping it open.)

Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster 360 Kinect Screenshot

As for the dialogue, it’s wonderful.  Elmo and Cookie Monster’s voices are spot on with their Sesame Street counterparts, and the new monsters are equally likable.  The background music is pleasant as well, though hardly as hummable as “C Is For Cookie”.  Just saying…

Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster is one of those rare games that’s supposed to be kids-oriented, but actually has something to offer for everyone.  Young ones will enjoy the tone and mini-games; adults will feel all nostalgic watching Cookie Monster do his thing, while Elmo actually comes across as even more huggable than before.  Though not perfect, this story is well worth checking out.  Enjoy it with some cookies.  OM NOM NOM.

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Robert Workman
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