Despite being a big part of my childhood that I rather enjoyed, I walked into Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster expecting to be extremely bored and largely unsatisfied by what it had to offer, but I'm glad to report it put a smile on my face that I couldn't shift for the entirety of the session I was stood in front of it. There's something instantly enjoyable about seeing Sesame Street characters in vibrant environments that you can control and interact with by waving your hands through the air, which is exactly why it'll be great for small children.
The target audience is 4-6 year olds and it's been designed with co-op play in mind that parents can guide their kids through, or siblings of a similar age can bounce around in front of for a bit of fun. As you may well have guessed from its title, the game only features the monster characters from the TV show, so you can expect to see plenty of The Cookie Monster, as well as Oscar The Grouch who isn't technically a monster I know but we'll forgive him because he's well loved. Even Elmo makes an appearance despite lacking any monstrous qualities whatsoever. Sadly classic characters like Big Bird and The Count don't crop up, but there are plenty of new monster characters that are unique to the game, so you'll be getting a lot of variety when it comes to characters.
The level select menu works like a giant interactive story book that you can flick through by grabbing the pages and turning them over, so no real surprises there. Once you get to the desired chapter you grab hold of the tabs and pull them out to cast yourself into the various tales it contains, which all have a bit of wisdom to impart, so it's a bit like the Kinect version of Aesop's Fables. Also, once you've finished the game, there are some funky monster themed book marks that you can use to quickly get to your favourite bits.
To make your way through the game you have to help the various monsters that you meet by completing different mini-games, which have a nice learning curve that I personally think fits the target age very well. A few examples include throwing garbage balls into Oscar's dustbin, helping to tune a pot full of singing flowers by raising or lowering your hands, and there's even a game where Elmo and The Cookie Monster sprout wings and you get to make them float through the air by flapping your arms up and down. Unfortunately, you won't be taking part in classic Sesame Street activities counting objects, or discovering new words, which is a little bit of a shame, but it's nothing you'll be crying about. I think it's also important to mention that these activities aren't too physically demanding, so you don't need to worry about causing a negligent degree of exhaustion to your children.
The Kinect controls aren't bad either, for example you have to put an appropriate amount of power behind your throws; if you put too little effort into things then the garbage balls fall short of their mark, whereas too much'll sail them right to the far reaches of the surrounding area. It might sound like a straight forward idiot proof concept that's been demonstrated before, but this time around it feels incredibly realistic. There's not much of an embarrassment factor associated with the actions you have to perform in front of the sensor bar, which is a nice change to the majority of Kinect games on the market at the moment.
The levels themselves grab your attention because they're ridiculously colourful, which add to the overall feeling of happiness that you get from taking part, and it's hard not to appreciate it's simplistic cartoon like beauty. If you're looking for graphical excellence though, then you should definitely look elsewhere, but to be honest this one captures the feel of Sesame Street perfectly without having to painstakingly animate every individual hair in some of the monsters' coats.
I think this is the first game for toddlers I've seen that I might possibly consider recommending to parents because it's got the potential to aid the learning process in young children in a fun, interactive package, which ticks all the boxes you'd expect from a Sesame Street title, and lets you join in with your kids' enjoyment without boring you senseless! It's also a great option to put on when your youngsters have friends round and you don't want to zombify them by simply plonking them in front of the TV with a DVD to watch.
Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster is out later in the year for Xbox 360, so it'd probably make a pretty good Christmas present if you can't think of things to pick up for the younger members of your family.