Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster E3 2011 Hands-On PreviewBy Jeffrey Matulef - Posted Jun 15, 2011
After making a game about a time traveling metal head roadie who aligns himself with Lemmy and Ozzy Osborne to fight the forces of evil, it may seem odd for Tim Schafer to make a children's game based on Sesame Street. The truth is Tim's got a kid now, and he's not alone.
Those who grew up gaming on NES or earlier consoles are becoming real grown ups with progeny and everything. As much as we love our Call of Duties and our Grand Theft Autos, it's not something one can share with their wee little offspring. Double Fine's upcoming Kinect exclusive Sesame Street licensed game, Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster, however is.
It'd be easy to write off Once Upon a Monster as an overly simple kids game, but that would be missing the point entirely. Most kids games are similar to games for grown ups, only simpler, easier, and brighter. Once Upon a Monster is all these things, but more importantly, it's a game to aid in children's development.
The demo I played was about a Elmo and Cookie Monster helping a monster named Grrhoof be true to himself. You see, Grrhoof is a big furry thing that would feel right at home in Where the Wild Things Are, yet he wants nothing more than to be an adorable little puffalope, which are fluffy pink bunny like creature with fury antler-shaped ears. He paints himself up in bright colors and tries to live among them, but all this does is scare the little fellas away. By hanging out with Elmo and Cookie Monster, he begins to learn the value of friendship and that when he's honest with himself the puffalope will want to hang out with him because deep down, he's a pretty cool dude.
Their time together is spent doing a variety of activities that drive this story along. The first activity I played had players assume the roles of Elmo and Cookie Monster as they mimicked Grrhoof's movements in a blue and pink forest. Here they're just getting to know him, and their similar movements help reinforce the notion that they're really not so different after all.
The first thing I asked the demo rep was, "Where's the score? How do I know who's winning?" He was quick to explain that they chose not to use a scores, because they didn't want kids to compete with each other. In fact, the game won't progress until one of the players successfully pulls off the required action. This way, it's about children encouraging each other to do well, rather than one-up them. The observant will notice that more fireflies flock to the player performing better, but this is never explained and something kids don't need to know.
The next mini-game was about catching fireflies. Small ones can be grabbed with one hand, while larger ones need to be cupped with both hands. Finally, the last mini-game is about the gang luring puffalopes towards you by feeding them. There's three caves they can come out of and the game highlights where you need to throw your treats. After feeding the same puffalope enough times, they'll come up to you, and you can pet them. I almost died of cuteness.
While Grrhoof's story is about acceptance of who you are, each chapter follows the plight of a new monster with their own unique problem. One had a birthday party that no one showed up to, because they all had other things going on, another is in charge of a band, but they're all scatterbrained and hard to organize, and another wants to be an actor but is terrified of performing, so you must help her overcome her shyness. The new Double Fine characters won't speak, but will gesture what they're feeling so children can interpret their response.
Each chapter is comprised of five or six mini-games, lasting about five minutes a piece. This way parents can tell their kids that if they do their homework, they can play through one chapter before bed. In an industry that's focused so much on selling ludicrously high hours of gameplay, it's refreshing to see a game that flaunts its brevity and doesn't seek to corrupt your kids with a crippling videogame addiction.
While it may seem like a minor thing, Once Upon a Monster's presentation is top-notch. Selecting chapters and mini-games is done by flipping through pages in an illustrated children's book. To enter the story (i.e. select the stage), you open your arms wide as if to give it a hug.
Once Upon a Monster really stood out at an E3 full of guns, guns, and bigger guns. It's not the kind of game that's necessarily going to appeal to non-parents, but it looks to fulfill a niche that's all too often neglected or doesn't receive the quality titles it deserves.