Review: Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster
If (like me) you were a kid in the 80s (or possibly even the 90s) you will probably remember Sesame Street on Channel 4 – a fun and educational kids show that taught a whole generation of whippersnappers all about their numbers and ABCs, helped along by the genius inclusion of Jim Henson’s Muppets. I have to say that whilst researching the show for this review, I was surprised to find that it was first aired in 1969 and reached its 40th anniversary in 2009 – but I was also saddened to see that it now mainly only shows on US TV, meaning kids elsewhere have to get their Sesame Street fix on the official website.
Thank god then for Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Productions, who have done a double-fine job of bringing the show to Kinect. Taking the format of an interactive pop-up book, you guide Cookie Monster and Elmo through six different chapters, each one dedicated to a different monster and theme. Instead of concentrating on which words begin with the letter C or counting how many there are, OUAM aims to teach “life lessons” (such as compassion, cultivating friendships and acceptance of others) with the series’ trademark fun factor, played out through a series of different mini-games in each chapter.
As you would expect, OUAM’s control and interaction is based around striking poses, mimicking actions and dancing – the kind of stuff kids tend to approach with a certain heady aplomb that most adults rarely tend to apply to things these days. I have to admit to feeling a bit knackered after an extended play session, especially with the fervency that the game expects you commit to certain actions, but I can see most youngsters enjoying this chance to over-act and generally jump about and make noise, especially with Mum or Dad puffing along by their side whilst trying not to look exhausted.
The first chapter eases you in rather nicely with a great selection of activities based around giving Marco (a long, brown streak of a Monster) a tip-top Birthday, who you initially stumble across feeling a bit sorry for himself at the lack of decorations and general absence of Monster mates at his party. After cheering him up by joining in on his favourite thing to do – running through the Electric Forest – your next mission is to recruit his friends and get them to join in on the celebrations. This is achieved by playing a game of dress-up and then engaging in some rhythm action-style drumming, followed by a quick flight to the top of the Tree of Plenty with Grover in order to collect fruit and other interesting (presumably organic) foodstuffs for the party guests.
The control system is easy and intuitive, although inconsistent. On some activities (dancing or matching a pose, for example) you can get away with minimal effort to ace the challenge, whereas others (such as performing the actions for Seamus’s play in Chapter 3) require overly-exaggerated versions of what you’re asked to do. Conversely, weeding Shelby’s garden in Chapter 2 seems to take on a life of its own, where your attempts to grab your chosen weed with both hands seem to default to whichever weed the game prefers. It’s fairly annoying as an older player and from a reviewer’s point of view (we notice things like this), but I can’t see the younger player finding such nits to pick – and it’s here that OUAM will excel.
Every detail has been tailored to appeal to the younger player, and quite rightly so. From the brilliant menu system where you flip through the pages of the book by swiping your hand in front of your body to holding the tabs on either side of the page and pulling outwards to jump into a chapter, it’s incredibly kid-friendly stuff that’s bright, bold and easy to use. Similarly, the presentation is what you’d expect: larger than life characters with their own personality traits (good, and not-so-good) that genuinely want you to like them, and it’s very hard not to. They’re all superbly animated with ne’er a graphical glitch in sight. In fact, the animation is probably up there with the best of them. Sure it’s all large, simple stuff, but it’s the effect of believability and solidity of the whole shooting match that adds leverage to your falling in love with the world in which the Monsters of OUAM inhabit. Each chapter has its own unique richness, appearing to have been as lovingly crafted as the characters within them, and they all seem to fit just as well into the Sesame Street universe.
The voice acting and dialogue only adds to the brilliance, with Cookie Monster his usual self – who takes on the role of father figure in the game – whilst Elmo is most likely the character younger players will identify with; mischievous and a little naive, but curious and good-natured throughout. Adults should find a fair few pop culture references in the script, and Cookie delivers some cracking one-liners too. The chapters have been structured incredibly well in terms of narration, and it’s very clear that the story writers went to town and had a lot of fun coming up with the situations the game places you in.
Minor gripes come in the form of repetitive dialogue from Elmo and Cookie, with several key phrases repeated over and over again during certain activities, the wayward nature of the Kinect sensor and the inconsistent nature of the effort required to pull off moves, but I’m certain you’ll be having far too much fun to notice.
Review: Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster Results
What we liked:
Beautifully realised console interpretation of the show
Bright, bold characters you'll want to believe in
Wide array of activities means you'll never get bored
What we disliked:
Inconsistent levels of effort required to pull off moves
Repetitive use of phrases from Elmo and Cookie
Relatively short campaign; a good day's play, tops