Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster

7.5 Overall Score
Graphics: 9/10
Story: 6/10
Alex's Score: 9/10

Fun and intuitive controls.

Not enough like Sesame Street

Written by on November 22, 2011 in [, , , , , , , ]


As an adult, you would think that my time with Double Fine’s Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster would be entirely because I was forced to play it.  I’m sure you would assume that I was trying to get my hands on one of the perceptibly juicier games that were coming out in this crowded Fall calender.  I will go on record as saying,without irony or an ounce of shame that I love Sesame Street as much now as I did when I was four years old and learning to count for the first time.

I had to enlist the help of Alex, a more age appropriate nephew of mine, to assist in reviewing the game as it’s meant to be played with your child.  To give you a little background to Alex, he is a five year old boy who also has a love of the evergreen characters of Sesame Street.  He has played games before, but never one for the Kinect.

The game starts out on the titular Sesame Street as Elmo and Cookie Monster literally run into each other as they went about their merry ways without looking where they were going.  As Cookie assists Elmo with the books that he dropped, he notices a favorite book of his, Once Upon A Monster.  It’s at this point that the pair begin living the stories in the book.

There are several stories in the book, all of which star several new characters created for the game .  The stories don’t last long and are compromised of several mini-games that you can do alone or with a partner, each of you controlling a different monster.  The stories themselves are cute, but nothing special or too complicated and each try to teach about some values to have in life.  I thought the lessons were camouflaged well so that the kids might not realize that they were learning  about things like friendship and the environment since the lessons weren’t too preachy; however, when I asked Alex for his take on the stories, he claimed that he hadn’t learned a thing.

In fact, when asked what his least favorite part of the game was, he specified that he would rather the game be a collection of mini-games without the story sections.  I admit that we could have skipped the story sequences, but this doesn’t change the fact that he could have just done without them at all.

My feelings on the stories is that they were well written, funny and had clear goals in mind to educate as well as entertain.  Having the familiar Sesame Street characters as our guides through the fantasy world that developer Double Fine created was welcome, but ultimately distracting for me.

The Muppet fanboy in me played the game for hours longing for the game to feel more like the license that it was portraying.  Don’t get me wrong, I really like the new characters and the gorgeous environments that we were playing through, but at no time did the game ever make me feel like I was coexisting with the same TV show world that I love.

I will be the first one to point out that this complaint is extremely nit-picky, but to put it into terms that a non-fan might understand, imagine playing a Batman game where several Batman characters are in it and are true to their comic book representations, but the universe they inhabit is from the Harry Potter series of books.  While this scenario is incredibly awesome, especially if you imagine a boss battle where you fight Voldemort, it would still feel weird.

Game-play wise, Monster offers a series of mini-games as most Kinect titles do.  The mini-games were surprisingly varied and ranged from running an obstacle course to putting on a play.  I find it interesting that Alex and I agreed that our favorite section was a drumming mini-game that was surprisingly fun, but all to brief.  We also agreed that the “dress up” sections were a little boring and the flying bits over stayed their welcome as our arms would frequently get tired as we attempted to sway and flap to the end of the levels.  The game gives you a few opportunities during these sections to rest with updrafts that carry you, but if the sections were shorter I don’t think they would have been a problem as Alex continually asked, “How much further do we have to go up this stupid tree?”

The Kinect integration was decent as neither of us had too much of an issue playing each section as the controls were intuitive and responsive.  A good example would be a section where my nephew and I were tasked with snatching up trash and shooting it into Oscar the Grouch’s trash can.  It was quite easy to track the trash for you to catch and to determine just how hard or soft you had to “throw” the garbage to get it to sink into the cans and Alex didn’t have an issue figuring out how it worked.

As you would imagine, this isn’t a very hard game at all, considering the audience that is being catered to, but I think that it was just challenging enough for a sense of pride to wash over Alex and he would jump up and down, cheering with each victory.

You would think that his energy would be a good thing, but this is where I ran into a few issues with the game, although I think it might have something to do with the Kinect and not the game.  Every time Alex would do something unpredictable, as children often do, the Kinect would have a mini-freakout.  At one point Alex anticipated Elmo’s instructions and lifted his hands up before the sentence was out of the red monster’s mouth and as a result, Elmo’s arms went flailing about.  Later, he jumped in front of me briefly and the result was the control being taken from me and  he was assigned my profile for several minutes.

Basically, the Kinect had a heck of a hard time keeping track of my young cohort.  This is to be expected considering the size difference between Alex and myself, but it caused a few unexpected problems.  Alex began sitting down between levels to watch the lengthy cut scenes and the Kinect would loose him, an action that is normal within a Kinect game, but it wouldn’t recognize who he was when he started playing again.  This issue essentially had him missing out on some of the achievements and progress made in the game.  This wasn’t exclusive to his account either as it wouldn’t recognize me or gave credit for my accomplishments to Alex at times despite the Kinect knowing what we look like.  It would have been more intuitive for the game to at least have the option to assume that if you jump into the right side, you were Alex and if you jumped to the left, you were Uncle Wally.

Being that Alex really didn’t care about the achievements, this wasn’t a deal breaker, but of course Uncle Wally craves the meaningless points.

I might have been a little hard on Once Upon A Monster for what it is, but the fan in me was craving more.  If Double Fine just left the Sesame Street moniker off of the title, I would have been satisfied in this cute game with interesting new characters and fun mini-games.  With the moniker, I have to paraphrase Ian Malcolm by saying, “Now you do eventually plan to have Sesame Street in your Sesame Street game, right?”

Alex on the other hand could care less and after a lengthy session of dancing disco with Grover, he turned to me with an electrifying smile and promised, “I’m going to ask Santa Claus for one of these Kinect things so I can ask my momma for this game!”

A copy of Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster was provided to The Married Gamers for review.


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Author: Wallace Phelps View all posts by

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