Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review - Sesame St: Once Upon A Monster

Microsoft’s Kinect camera was made for the likes of Once Upon A Monster. Developed by Tim Schafer's Double Fine Productions and published by Warner Bros, this is purely aimed at children and gives them the opportunity to leap into a living storybook featuring all their favourite Sesame Street characters. To do this review justice I therefore had to recruit the services of my three year old daughter who was very excited at the prospect of playing with Cookie Monster, Oscar, Grover and of course Elmo.

Now she’s an absolute novice regarding video games and has never so much as grabbed a controller so this game not only had to be easy to play but work effectively with Kinect. Both of these essential requirements were met admirably, with Once Upon A Monster proving instantly accessible to even the smallest of gamers.

Our heroes Elmo and Cookie Monster have come across a magical picture book and as luck would have it, it’s possible to leap into the pages and become part of the story. Cue plenty of opportunities to dance, jump and leap through six fun-filled chapters, interacting with the Sesame Street characters and walking through the many colourful environments. The many mini games see you complete various tasks ranging from dressing up monsters, flying, running along avoiding obstacles and playing musical instruments.

It’s aimed at up to two players (of any age – although probably best if one is under 5!) and the drop in/out co-op gameplay allows regular breaks if needed. Bear in mind, it’s a pretty active game too and bound to get you puffing (and ensure children get tired out too).

Kinect picks up your movements and actions admirably, with the various mini games each having easy to understand instructions and clear voice commands and animations to explain the controls. Kinect’s microphone is used to good effect too and means the game relies on more than just your movement.

As each task is completed, stars are earned; every page can be then revisited as players try to improve and earn more stars. It’s original and fun, and for the most part kept both me and my daughter engrossed.

The whole thing has been designed with help from the Sesame Workshop, an educational organization behind the Sesame Street show. Once Upon A Monster allows children to learn how to make friends, work together and, importantly for a three-year old girl, realise that there are such things as friendly monsters!

Being controller free, the game is obviously entirely reliant on the sensitivity of Kinect and its ability to track your child as they jump about. It all works pretty well although on occasion the tracking was visibly off. Fortunately, the game is quite forgiving. Another issue was the fact that little people rarely stay still for any period of time and getting my daughter to stay in roughly the right spot during some of the activities proved a little tricky; her indifference at flapping her arms to fly was however, outweighed by the fun she had running through the woods and avoiding logs and branches. For her, the fun activities certainly exceeded any slightly less interesting ones.

The games are many and varied, and thankfully last only a few minutes apiece, which helps to maintain the interest levels.

If you don’t have a child, this game is clearly not for you; it’s short and there’s little challenge for anyone much taller than a metre high. The ease with which you can clear the various stages should also be a factor when considering a purchase... at full price, you have to question whether you’d get value for money from the game. I would, however, argue that it offers a fair amount of replayability.

There aren’t many games aimed at this age range and it’s thoroughly refreshing to find one that allows me to play on the 360 with my daughter without worrying about violence or foul language. Another bonus is that there are no complex controls to master. Once Upon A Monster is an interactive version of the popular TV show that many of us grew up with – and it’s great seeing the characters come to life in front of your eyes. It’s heartily recommended.

*Reviewed on Xbox 360