The delightful Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster for Xbox 360's Kinect controller is easily the best Sesame Street video game I've ever played. Please, don't let the fact that it's also the only Sesame Street video game I've ever played diminish that praise.
Also, please don't think that just because Once Upon A Monster comes from the talented developer behind Brutal Legend and Psychonauts, Double Fine, it gets a pass. As Sesame Street games go, it's cute, charming and impossible to hate. It may be a game designed with kids kids, but basking in the big smiles of Elmo, Grover and Cookie Monster, playing these simple motion-controlled games, it's hard not to feel like a kid yourself.
Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster takes a storybook approach to its tale. That book is divided into chapters, with each telling the story of a monster with a problem. In the chapter I played, that monster was Marco (pictured above), one of the original Double Fine-created Muppets. Marco's the star of "The Greatest Party That Ever Wasn't," a sad story of a birthday party that no one but Marco, the birthday boy, showed up to.
Being the nice Sesame Street inhabitants they are, Elmo and Cookie Monster set off to make things right.
Elmo and Marco pair up to have some fun running through the Electric Jungle, a brightly-colored obstacle course built for two. One player controls Elmo, who rides on the shoulders of Marco, controlled by player two. While the duo runs, the player controlling Elmo must duck to avoid tree limbs and reach upward to collect butterflies. The one controlling Marco must lean left and right to avoid boulders, jump to leap over felled trees.
It's simple, but pleasurable cooperative fun where everyone is a winner.
After that healthy round of exercise, Elmo, Marco and Cookie Monster get together for a little dance party in the jungle where they're soon joined by Grover. The game loosely detects a player's movements as they try to mimic the disco moves of each Muppet, an easy but enjoyable dance-off. Move and your Muppet companions will move too. Dance Central this is not.
Fingers pointed at the sky, hips shaking, I was impressed with the way these Sesame Street characters were rendered and animated. They look believably fuzzy and googly eyed, true to their television counterparts, with the loose, bendy joints of a Jim Henson puppet.
The demo culminated in a celebration of birthday cake, in which we needed to shout "Happy birthday!" to Marco and instruct him to blow out his candles. A good time was had by all.
Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster may not be the game that sells you on Kinect or will demand that you play it. But for parents with young children looking for a platform to engage in some cooperative gameplay that doesn't pander or offend, it looks like A-OK.