A fair game for kids that falls short of the lofty standards that the characters on which it is based set.
At first glance, it seems like a great idea: have Elmo and Cookie Monster teach kids some life lessons while wearing them out in front of the TV. Unfortunately, the magic of the TV hardly translates to this title of cheap cartoony graphics and repetitive exercises. Still, given the dearth of good kid-friendly Kinect titles, this for now is probably the best choice to get your toddler engaged with the Xbox.
There have been a lot of active motion games for the Xbox Kinect, but not one yet that was made for really young kids. As a result, in households I’ve been to where they have both a Kinect and young kids, I’ve noticed that the kids really aren’t all that interested in the Xbox, while adults have a lot of fun with it.
Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster takes kids and parents through a storybook of six individual “stories”, each of which contain multiple activities which in total take upwards of 30 to 40 minutes to complete. You “flip through the pages” back and forth by holding your hand on left and right arrows and you “enter a story” by holding both arrows. It takes some getting used to, and you may need to work with your kids to help them not get too frustrated with it, but it works.
The game is hosted by Cookie Monster and Elmo. I admit that given the graphics capabilities of the Xbox, I was hoping for a more “photorealistic” view of the muppets, but it’s just a cartoony depiction of them. The colors are very bright and the sounds loud and chipper to appeal to children.
The activities are obviously aimed at small kids, I’d say between ages 4 and 5. For the first story, the activities play a lot like “Simon Says”, where monsters dance on screen and the child needs to match the monster’s arm and leg movements. Cookie Monster and Elmo are also dancing the same moves. The Kinect does a good job at picking up motion, and as the child dances correctly, they’ll earn “stars” which eventually will lead them to the next level. I was a little disappointed because there’s no immediate feedback about how accurately the child is doing the moves, you just have to wait to see if you get “stars”. In some cases, the activity feels much longer than it really should.
In later levels, the child uses other motions, such as jumping up and down, petting creatures, flying, dancing with disco Grover, and catching fireflies with their hands. Also, this game suffers from what plagues most video games, in that Elmo and Cookie Monster repeat the same phrases over and over and over again.
The publishers of the game tout it as something which “parents and children can play together”. This made me really look forward to the game because the TV show pulls that concept off wonderfully–since it began in 1969, it’s been a show that kids could watch on their level, but that grown-ups could also appreciate the subtle and in some cases delightfully subversive humor. Most importantly, it was a show that didn’t insult kids’ intelligence or speak to them in high-pitched, baby-talk voices. I, probably like you, was someone who learned to count to 10, learned the letters of the alphabet, and to this day cherish memories like Ernie dancing with the Boogie-Woogie Sheep, aliens trying to communicate with a telephone, and the sight of cookies flying everywhere.
Sadly, I found the game to be somewhat of a letdown in this department. Like many “tie in” video games, this one seemed just very cutesy and colorful and inane, more Teletubbies or Barney than Sesame Street. The storyline, if you can call it that, is non-existent…whatever “plot” they have is just a device to get from one activity to another. As such, I think most adults would lose interest and opt to let their kids play by themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, if you’re a parent of very young children, I think many of them will be thrilled that there’s a “game made just for them”. The activities themselves are simple and easy for kids to follow, and the controls are intuitive and pretty well executed. A lot of them provide great exercise, so it’s a great way to let the kids expend some energy in front of the TV instead of just sitting in front of it.
Overall, I think this is not a bad game for households with young kids. It’s just a shame, because it could have been a lot more.
3 of 5 stars.