This review is brought to you today by the letter G. So what words start with the letter G?
G is the first letter in the word "generations." Sesame Street's appeal stretches across the decades thanks to the show's seemingly endless well of charm, wholesomeness, appealing characters, and goofy humor. Once Upon a Monster taps into all of what makes the show an enduring success. Its Kinect-based gameplay is simple but endearing, and its activities are extremely well geared towards entertaining young children. It's not quite a "great for kids of all ages" game--the very young will find some of it too complex, while young-at-heart adults will find it a little too simplistic--but for preschoolers and their parents or caregivers, it's a great way to enjoy some quality interaction with some of Sesame Street's most beloved characters.
G is for Grover. The blue-haired muppet who has long been a series regular makes a guest appearance in Once Upon a Monster, but it's really Cookie Monster and Elmo's show. The colorful pair are the anchors in this adventure, which takes place away from Sesame Street itself. All of the action happens inside a storybook, with both Cookie Monster and Elmo interacting with the various monsters within the book. You get to control Elmo, Cookie Monster, Grover, and the new monsters at different stages as you progress through the six included stories. Each story is made up of a few different activities or chapters, but unfortunately, you need to play through the earlier ones to unlock the later ones. That means you won't be able to initially skip past any stories or activities you or your little ones may find unappealing, but once you've unlocked all the chapters, you can play them in any order you wish.
G is, of course, the first letter in the word "game," and a broad range of gameplay activities are included. You perform actions such as mimicking a monster's dance moves, flapping your arms while pretending to be a flying bee, beating a virtual drum in time to music, and much more. There's a bit of repetition, however--there's a dance section in each book, for example, and the "dress up a monster" activity happens several times--but the majority of activities last only a few minutes each, so they never become grating. Very young children, however, may not fully understand all of the games, as several of them require some basic knowledge of colors. But if your child knows red from green, they should have no problems, as that's about as complex as the activities get.
G is also in "generous," and the game is quite forgiving and generous when it comes to tracking player movements via the Kinect. Broad, general movements work just as well as concise ones, and there's no real fail state in any of the activities. Drop-in/out two-player is also supported, and it's easy to step in and out of any chapter. This makes Once Upon a Monster an extremely kid-friendly game, as the little ones won't get too frustrated with the game not recognizing their movements. It also makes it easy for parents or caregivers to help their kids through the activities by standing behind them or helping guide their movements.
G is also the first letter in "genial," which is an apt way to describe the stories you find in Once Upon a Monster. The focus is less on education and more on exploring themes like friendship, acceptance, overcoming insecurities, and more. You have to help cheer up Marko the monster, for example, when no one shows up for his party, and help Grrhoof realize that being himself is the best way to make new friends. It's all very pleasant, and even funny at times, particularly some of Cookie Monster's dialogue. When Cookie says "Me feel this in glutes" partway through a dance activity, it will bring a smile to your face, and just like Sesame Street, Once Upon a Monster doesn't rely on inside jokes or overt pop culture references to maintain your interest. It also helps that each chapter in the game lasts for only about 30 minutes, making it ideal for a kid's brief attention span.
When it comes to that other gaming-related G word--graphics--Once Upon a Monster is a good-looker, delivering a bright, colorful gameworld that's in keeping with the Sesame Street look. The new monster designs all look like they could have come straight from the muppet vaults, and while there's a lack of fine definition (Cookie Monster's and Elmo's fur, for example), the storybook locales of Once Upon a Monster are still great to look at. There are also a few catchy tunes, and the game makes great use of the real voice actors for the Sesame Street characters, giving them some funny and memorable lines.
And finally, G is the first letter in "great," a good word to describe this child-focused game. Kids will find its colorful presentation and easy controls appealing, and thanks to all the charm of Sesame Street and the new monsters you meet, gaming parents or caregivers won't find it a chore to play through Once Upon a Monster with their junior gamers.