Bev Chen
26 Oct, 2011

Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster Review

360 Review | A children’s monster-piece.
Of all the children’s television programs, Sesame Street arguably has the most impressive pedigree, winning dozens of awards and showed in over 140 countries. But if you’re a child, you probably don’t care about stuff like that. Chances are if you’re reading this though, you’re an adult who’s looking to buy this for a child. Well, that’s the excuse anyway.. Because this is Sesame Street we’re talking about here – a program that bridges generations and has made an impact on millions of people, young and old. Think about Sesame Street and one of the first things you’ll think about is the undeniable charm the show possesses. It’s a combination of so many things – the iconic characters, the colourful puppet design and the valuable lessons that are taught. These are things that sound easy to transfer to a video game, but we’d wager it’s much harder than it sounds. So imagine our surprise (and subsequent relief) when we heard Double Fine would be handling the Once Upon a Monster Kinect project. After all, this is the creator of Costume Quest and Psychonauts – you could say they’re practitioners of charm. Fortunately, our faith was not misplaced.

Once Upon a Monster follows two of the best known Sesame Street characters, Cookie Monster and Elmo, who journey through a storybook and help the monsters nestled within its pages with their problems. To name a couple of our favourites, there’s Seamus, a budding playwright/actor who wants to overcome his shyness so that he can put on a successful performance. Then there’s Grrhoof (who you may remember from our E3 preview), a not-so-terrifying monster who wants to make friends with the adorable Puffalopes. In true Sesame Street fashion, the lessons that result from helping them are relevant to problems in the real world. It’s a fine, unpretentious learning experience for young children, and adults might walk away feeling as though they've learned something as well. Crafting valuable lessons for kids aside, Double Fine should also be commended for characterising the cast; Cookie Monster is perfectly jovial and Elmo, naive as always, manages not to annoy. Making cameos are Oscar the Grouch and Grover (although sadly, Super Grover was nowhere in sight). The new monsters all have believable plights and are well designed to the point where you can just imagine them as real puppets on the show. Similarly, the storybook world of Once Upon a Monster is simply gorgeous, with each environment brimming with character. Couple this with catchy tunes by Peter McConnell and you have a whole new world brought to life in your living room.

No, the message here isn't to "bee yourself".

No, the message here isn't to "bee yourself".

Once Upon a Monster being faithful to the Sesame Street brand is all very well and good, but what about the gameplay? It’s impressive for sure, and is a great example of what the Kinect is capable of. Gameplay is varied, ranging from ‘Simon Says’-esque tasks such as dancing and posing, obstacle courses, dress-up games and segments that require you to use your voice. Spread out amongst the game’s five rather short chapters, it can sometimes feel like certain types of gameplay are used more than others and last for ages. Dancing is the main culprit here but those who are rhythmically inclined will enjoy themselves, although it seems the game is set up to pick up vaguely similar actions rather than defined motions made. Other times it’s the opposite – the Kinect simply refuses to pick up actions like slumping forward and bizarrely, despite the microphone function, clapping. Some segments require throwing, with players having to pay attention to how gently or hard they are flinging whatever items they are holding on to so that they land in the right spot. Kids being kids, we can imagine them swinging their arms in the air in a manner too enthusiastic over and over again... which will result in Cookie or Elmo repeatedly telling the player what you should be doing. Sure, they’re charming puppets, but we didn't respond kindly to constant hinting (especially when the fault was with the Kinect) and we don’t think children would either. Oh, did we mention that this happens when they praise you too? There isn’t much variety in what characters say during each stage, so hearing Elmo exclaim: “The Puffalopes are so cute!” for the umpteenth time can get irritating.

Ok, yeah. The Puffalopes are stupidly cute.

Ok, yeah. The Puffalopes are stupidly cute.

To further drive the point home of Once Upon a Monster being a game for children, there is no penalty for failure. Instead, the game rewards players for doing tasks well with stars. Collect enough stars and you’re rewarded with, er, gamerscore. It’s clear that Double Fine intended for Once Upon a Monster to be replayed a number of times more due to some of the achievements (“Send Seamus onstage in three different emperor costumes”, “Play through all the dance pages in the book twice”). It’s good value for parents wanting to play with different kids (or for friends who have drunk/Sesame Street-loving companions over). Still, for the price it’s sitting on the shelves, it’s pretty good value for money.

Once Upon a Monster is a great example of a family-friendly experience. Kids will love the varied gameplay, colourful environments and loveable characters, and adults be glad to know that their children are learning while having fun. Oh, and they might get a kick out of it too. This is definitely a game that lives up to the Sesame Street name. Now, where’s that Super Grover spin-off?
The Score
Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster is an excellent family-friendly experience that kids will learn a lot from and adults will have fun with. This is definitely a game that lives up to the Sesame Street name.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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E3 2011 Feature: Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster preview
22 Jun, 2011 So cute, it’ll give you diabetes. So lay off the cookies.
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1 Comment
2 years ago
Could be a worthy pickup when it becomes cheaper icon_biggrin.gif.

It's just me but i keep reading the "Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com" in the Seseme Street style voice (ie: todays show is brought to you by the letter P).
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