Oct 24, 2011

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Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster Review

Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster Review

If the idea of a grown man flailing at the air amidst the voices of Sesame Street characters seems odd to you, that’s because it truly is.  However strange most Kinect games make its users look, it only seems to magnify with the thought of playing with the characters from Sesame Street.  Now normally I’d shy away from childrens games and wouldn’t bat an eye at a review covering the subject matter, but in the case of the Kinect title Once Upon A Monster, I was willing to make an exception.  This was due to the fact that this game was produced by Double Fine Studios, home of Tim Schafer and company, creators of titles such as Trenched, Brutal Legend, and Psychonauts.  Could they somehow make Sesame Street appeal to adults though?

In all honesty, Schafer and company aren’t marketing Once Upon A Monster for adults yet it’s still very appealing.  Cookie Monster is loveable regardless of age and while Elmo’s voice can sometimes be grating, his character has a likeability that can’t be ignored.  The same can be said for the entire world that Double Fine has created with lush environments, bright colors, and characters each unique in their own ways.  A lot of work was put into crafting this title and it’s instantly noticeable that the Double Fine crew genuinely care for the subject matter and its respective background.  Character animations have puppet-like movements much like their tv counterparts, a couple cameos help add to the story, and Cookie Monster and Elmo react accordingly to each situation given.  Make no mistake though, this game is marketed towards kids and intended for them, but Double Fine did a fine job in making sure the game doesn’t feel like a chore for adults to engage.

Once Upon A Monster follows a storybook level design with each story broken down into about five chapters.  Cookie and Elmo act as guides as players meet new monsters and help them with their individual problems.  Whether it’s helping one monster create a play or ensuring that another has the best birthday ever, the journey itself will definitely keep kids entertained throughout it’s length.  It’s also nice to note that the game is surprisingly longer then expected, though it doesn’t seem to overstay it’s welcome with most of the levels lasting no longer then five minutes each.  Though the game is intended for kids, the writing strikes a perfect balance entertaining kids while being able to keep parents/adults engaged. The writing actually had me laughing more then a few times.  The characters as a whole engage the players and though there are some issues with repetitive phrases, it’s intended audience (young children) shouldn’t have an issue with it.

Gameplay is more akin to “Simon Says” with players attempting to mimic the onscreen action.  Though there are a decent amount of chapters, a lot of the action revolves around dancing or leaning to guide characters.  This isn’t a knock on the game though because things switch up enough to keep things fresh.  The game even manages to use the often forgotten Kinect mic to help tell stories or talk to characters which surprisingly works well.  In general the action of the game is enough to keep players satisfied and you may even break a sweat with some of the minigames.  This is perfect for parents that want to encourage their kids to be more active as they’ll be jumping around, dancing about, and getting a decent amount of exercise.  Though the controls generally work, there was some issues with the lag and the controls for some of the “throwing” games were abysmal.  This may be due to the actual peripheral itself but it’s worth noting nonetheless.  This may cause some irritation initially but it’s only temporary since each level lasts only about five minutes.  The different ways Once Upon A Monster gets players to do similar tasks is executed properly and as a whole is more than acceptable.

Though I said that the game was longer then I expected, I didn’t mean that it was a long game.  The six different stories can be beaten in a couple days at a leisurely pace and there isn’t too much in terms of replayability.  Luckily every chapter can be played through with a partner and achieving the highest scores and getting the most stars is very tempting.  Along with some achievements that require multiple replays, the game could potentially take much longer to unlock everything though it wouldn’t be hard to see people getting bored before then. That said, many kids favorite games are rooted in monotony and it’s easy to imagine a child wishing to constantly replay these adventures with their pals Cookie Monster and Elmo.

Once Upon A Monster is nearly everything a parent could want in a childrens game.  It’s imaginative, engaging, well-written and is an experience parents can enjoy with their kids.  Though there are some technical issues and the overall replay value may be limited, this is a great Kinect title that should be recommended for young children everywhere.  There may even be some adults that will enjoy reminiscing down Sesame Street.

Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster
Platform: Xbox 360 Kinect
Genre: Family
Release Date: 10/11/2011
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: WB Games
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
MSRP: $49.99