parenting

Review: Sesame Street’s Once Upon a Monster Game

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Review—If you were a Sesame Street monster who found one of your monster friends despondent because he was the only attendant at his own birthday party, you would try to cheer him up, wouldn't you? You might help him pick a really fun outfit, hang a few streamers, or invite a few friends, right? The makers of Sesame Street's new Once Upon a Monster video game assume you would. And, because you are the monster by virtue of the wonders of Xbox 360 Kinect technology, you have fun doing it!

For Sesame Street's first foray into video games using that particular technology, it is a very well-designed game. The story follows beloved Elmo and Cookie Monster as they—and you—help their various monster friends solve their problems in preparation for going to a party. You help them "weed" gardens by "catching" flying weedballs and throwing them into Oscar's garbage can, learn how to dance, and, uh, fly. From the perspective of my 8 year-old son, who had never played an Xbox 360 Kinect game before but had grown up watching Sesame Street and playing other video games alongside me, it was an enjoyable, engaging game. And from my perspective, as a video game enthusiast, parent, and would-be buyer of this game, it was a great game.

Indeed, when I evaluate a game's value for my sake (and my son's sake, since we usually play many of the same games), there are several criteria that I use, and for the most part, the game scored better than average in most areas. For instance, my first criteria was the age-appropriateness of the game. Was it too simplistic or too advanced in its moves or missions? Did it get progressively harder, to keep a gamer's attention? Although the "missions" of each level are pretty basic, their accomplishment requires enough dexterity and agility to make it interesting. A five-year-old would find it somewhat more so. A three- or four-year-old would probably find it fun but perplexing enough to not pursue all the way through. As the game progresses, each activity required, it seemed to me, just a little more finesse than the one before, which was good.

Which brings me to my second criteria: did the technology interfere with gameplay? This is especially relevant in the case of the Kinect's "whole-body" scanning technology. I was worried it would be too complex. While it would frequently remind my son and I that we were either standing too close or too far away, it didn't interrupt the game to do so, and it was forgiving enough that we didn't have to be perfect to progress. The game's scoring system—one to five stars—was almost irrelevant to our enjoyment of the game.

Along the same lines, my third criteria is: how good were the graphics? Their quality is a quiet but important contributor to the enjoyment of any game, or lack thereof. The vibrant and plentiful colors of the various landscapes in the Once Upon a Monster game are fun and pleasing, even apropos for a Sesame Street game, but there were a few minor glitches when we played. Once a chunk of Cookie Monster's neck was missing, once Grover's hand kept disappearing. These were a little distracting.

My fourth criteria, though, is perhaps the 64-million-dollar question: How many levels were there in the game, or in other words, how "big" was the game? How much content would one get for their money? The game is organized into six different chapters, begun when the player "opens" the pages of the book, with five to six mini-games in each chapter. That makes for a total of about 36 "levels," which by my standards, is low. It does allow for more repetition, which is a particular facet of learning in younger children, but not for prolonged enjoyment of the game.

All in all, I would enthusiastically recommend this game to anyone with children 8 and younger.

Disclosure: 360publicrelations supplied me with a copy of the game. The opinions expressed in this post are my own.

 What games do your kids like to play? What games will top their wish lists this holiday season?

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