|System: Xbox 360,|
|Dev: Double Fine Productions|
|Pub: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment|
|Release: October 11, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Amanda L. Kondolojy
Though kids are getting into games at younger and younger ages, it's sort of difficult to point to any franchise as truly being "kid-friendly." Games from the Mario franchise are often too difficult, and good luck trying to get through a SpongeBob or other kid-focused game when your child is just starting to develop reading skills. Though school-age children have lots of choices when it comes to educational fare, the preschool crowd is sadly left out. And before you try to say that preschool kids shouldn't be playing video games anyway, you have to think of the educational potential here. The opportunity for motor skill development and interactive learning posed by games is something that has always been possible but not very well realized. Until now.
Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster is a game with a simple premise: educational gameplay can be fun. And as an adult playing a game intended for those in the single-digit age bracket, I can say that it absolutely accomplishes its goal. You play as Sesame Street mainstays Elmo and Grover as they explore chapters of a magical book called Once Upon a Monster. Although the game is about reading, there is no text at all, which makes it perfect for the "ready to read" age.
As the game begins, you meet a whole cast of new Sesame Street monsters who all need your help in one way or another. Kids will have to use basic problem-solving and motor skills in order to help them. The game is separated into six 20-minute chapters that players can start and stop at any time, each typically including three or four minigame-style challenges that include everything from playing virtual drums to planting flowers. The game rewards success with stars, but accommodates less experienced players by giving the stars no real value. Once Upon a Monster also doesn't make players go back and repeat areas where they didn't do well, which is great because if there's one area where the player struggles, they don't have to get frustrated or call on a parent for help.
Once Upon a Monster's format is such that kids of all ages can really get into it, but pre-schoolers will probably benefit the most from it. However, one feature that you are sure to appreciate whether you are 4 or 40 is the way it handles. Whenever I play a Kinect game, I always feel like something is missing from the controls. However, Once Upon a Monster is the first game that I've played where I didn't get this feeling. And that's not due to a lack of complexity. The game asks you to do plenty of things, from jumping around to striking poses to throwing balls of garbage, and every time I executed a move correctly, the game responded. I looked at the controls here with an especially critical eye due to its young intended audience, but I was pleasantly surprised by the responsiveness and have no doubt that kids who play this game won't have any problems whatsoever.
The ease of control is especially apparent when you are playing the game with a second player. Once Upon a Monster features drop-in/drop-out cooperative play that is integrated seamlessly into the game. If a solo player is in the middle of climbing a tree or dancing to a song, a second player only needs to appear on the screen and they can start playing immediately. This is especially important in a game like Once Upon a Monster, as kids can invite parents to join certain parts they enjoy, and the parent doesn't need a gamertag or any real gaming experience. Just jump in front of the screen and play. It's that simple.
And Once Upon a Monster doesn't skimp on the graphics. It has a very fun and whimsically stylized look to it, and even though the visuals aren't the most detailed in the world, the game's unique look more than makes up for this. Sesame Street character models move fluidly and the animation quality is top notch. The game also features plenty of bright and contrasting colors, so youngsters will find plenty to be engaged in. Though the look of the game is fairly far removed from that of the TV show, kids will still recognize their favorite characters easily.