I’m 37 years old, and I’m reviewing a Sesame Street game. I never thought I’d ever see the day that I’d be reviewing a game such as Once Upon a Monster, but that’s the risks I have to take when being a game reviewer, let alone the fact that I am one of the few members of the GiN staff who does reviews with the Xbox 360 Kinect. Once Upon a Monster requires a Kinect on your 360 to work.
So for the longest time there the game was, sitting on my Tetris cocktail table next to my consoles. I kept looking at it, knowing that eventually I’d have to give it a try.
And even when the time came to play it, I wondered what everyone else would say about me playing this game. Would I be faced with humiliation at the thought of hardcore Hargosh playing a child’s game? I ended up disconnecting my Ethernet cable so it wouldn’t connect to Xbox Live while playing, and thought to myself, "oh well, at least it can earn me some easy achievements."
But once I popped Once Upon a Monster into my 360, all the magic of childhood came roaring back. I was greeted by my favorite friend from Sesame Street as a kid, namely Cookie Monster, along with what eventually became the most annoying element of the show…the little red demon known as Elmo.
They introduced the game like it was a storybook called Once Upon a Monster. In it there are six different chapters, each of which consisting of five or six pages of various activities. Each of the chapters center around a specific topic, such as starting a party for a lonely monster celebrating his birthday, cleaning up a weed-infested garden, helping a shy monster overcome stage fright, making friends with a scary-looking monster, getting a band together, and even helping the storyteller create a unique story to tell.
Each page contains simple activities that helps get young children active. Some of which can be very simple tasks like waving at the Kinect and saying "hello" while some even go as far as full body movements to collect items, hit drums, or even dancing. To the adult Kinect gamer, Once Upon a Monster might look like a rudimentary version of Kinect Adventures, Dance Central, or even a better version of Wii Music, but if you are in the game’s target demographic, the gameplay will be very fun and entertaining. They will even be able to learn simple life lessons such as matching colors for an outfit to give to another monster.
Notice I said it will be fun for a young child, and from what I can tell the Kinect controls were designed for a child. I know in my reviews of Kinect games I complain about the sensor’s "glitchiness," but nothing like that happened here at all. Everything worked perfectly. Entering a page requires a player to extend his hands out to "pull" themselves into a page. However a child’s arm reach is much smaller than that of an adult, so I had to recalculate my arm positions to get the proper "feel" for the game.
Also, when playing some of the activities, I noticed a "waving monster" icon appear to the left of the screen. It turned out the Kinect was actually detecting myself as a second player, despite being the only person in the room. So I guess I was a little too big and it thought I was actually two people. It’s something to consider if parents and children are playing together.
Many of the well loved Sesame Street Muppet characters are there, including the previously mentioned Cookie Monster and Elmo, as well as Oscar the Grouch, Grover and Slimey the Worm.
Yes I am out of the game’s target demographic. Yes, this can be considered a simplistic version of various Kinect games. But if I think as if I am a child, I would easily enjoy this game, and as my editor said in an email discussing my review, "if only we had Kinect and Once Upon A Monster when we were children, I don’t think we would have ever left the television."
Do your children, or your favorite niece or nephew, a huge favor and pick this one up for them. They are going to absolutely love it. It makes Sesame Street even more enjoyable, and children are encourage to exercise and even learn life skills while having a ball with their Muppet friends. I’m only saddened because this wasn’t available when I was a kid and can only imagine how much a game like this will mean to a kid today.
Pros: Features many of the well known Sesame Street characters, all rendered as if they were from an actual show episode. Tons of activities for young children to enjoy. Story driven, well-paced in the usual Double Fine manner.
Cons: Some of the usual Kinect glitches surfaced during testing, even going as far as recognizing me as two players. Elmo, while charming to small children, might get on many adults’ nerves in a hurry.