Preschool Video Game Review: Elmo’s Musical Monsterpiece
Nicole Lazarro, an expert in the emotions of video games, after conducting extensive research, identified four keys of fun, or four reasons why people play video games. They are "easy fun," "hard fun," "people fun," and "serious fun." I and my three-year-old son recently played Elmo's Monsterpiece, a new game released by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. It would definitely fall into the "easy fun" category. It is another skillfully-made use of video game technology to make learning fun for young children.
While similar to another game I recently reviewed called Once Upon a Monster in its focus on Sesame Street characters, this game is designed for a younger crowd. It has, in fact, been rated "EC" for "Early Childhood," and is designed to expose preschoolers to basic musical concepts and encourage emotional expression through dance. With Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and Count von Count, kids "jump" to catch hanging musical notes, "slide" to match instruments, and "drum" to count sides of shapes. Says Samantha Ryan, Senior Vice President of Production and Development at Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, “We worked closely with the early childhood development experts at Sesame Workshop to create fun interactive activities that help kids foster a love for music.” “The game also...helps children to practice early math skills through music,” according to Rosemarie Truglio, Ph.D., Vice President of Education and Research at Sesame Workshop.
In evaluating any video game, I always use four criteria that I believe are central to the quality of a game and that revolve around the experience of playing the game. Those criteria are: 1) Is the game-play age-appropriate?, 2) Does the technology of the game interfere with or enhance game play?, 3) How good are the graphics?, and 4) How big is the game? With regards to age-appropriateness, I ask if the game-play is too simplistic or too advanced in its moves or missions? Does it get progressively harder, to keep the gamer’s attention? My three-year-old was able to successfully jump, slide, and maneuver the remote with a little coaching, and really loved "being" Elmo. There was a slight progression in the finesse required to progress through the levels.
Note that the game offers both a story mode and a game play mode. In the story mode, kids explore four different locations to gather instruments and skills so that they can create a "musical monsterpiece." In this mode, kids move through the minigames in a specific order, without having to navigate multiple screens. Kids or parents select a location and then choose a game found in that location. Selections are made by tilting the remote and then pressing a button; it would have been better if one could point to the picture of where one wanted to go, because the tilting didn't always work for us. Overall, I would give the game a four out of five in age-appropriateness.
As for the technology of the game, it definitely enhances the game play. Many parents of young gamers would probably agree with me that the Wii remote is probably more intuitive to a young child than that of a PS3, for instance. The game is available for Wii and DS systems. I can't imagine playing this game on a system that didn't allow for actual dance as part of game-play. Five points there. The same for the quality of the graphics. They are bright, colorful, and not glitchy. Five out of five.
Now, the size of the game may be a concern for some parents. It consists of 18 minigames, each of which takes maybe five or 10 minutes to play. Of course, game size is definitely relevant to the age of the player and the price of the game. The typical attention span of a two- or three-year-old is taken into account, as is the fact that repetition is a key element of learning. But at a retail price of about $19.99, that's a bit more than a dollar per minigame. Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 for the Wii, by comparison, costs $14.99, has 24 levels, 484 gold bricks, students-in-peril, red bricks, and character tokens to collect. The latter game is obviously designed for an older crowd of 10-years-old or higher. I think Elmo's Monsterpiece, though designed for preschoolers, could have more minigames and still provide engaging game-play. I would give the game three out of five points in this area.
Overall then, the game scores 17 out of 20 points in my book. It is a great addition to our video game library.
Do you play video games with your children? What are their favorite games?
Disclosure: I was given a free copy of the game by 360PR for review. The opinions expressed herein are my own.