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E3 2011: Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster hands-on

E3 2011

Double Fine has a reputation for building compelling and original game worlds. Titles such as last year’s Stacking demonstrate that the studio treats their products less as games and more as toys to be played with. Double Fine’s characters are full of life, and through the humor that has come to serve as their trademark, the studio’s products have managed to immerse players into the role of strange characters and bizarre settings with ease.

Perhaps there’s no better franchise then for these toymakers to get their hands on to than Sesame Street. Double Fine’s ability to build compelling digital game worlds, to stoke our curiosity and imaginations, makes them the ideal studio for development of game’s based on Sesame Workshop’s long-running, respected series. Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster started out as an original IP for Double Fine before the team decided to approach Sesame Workshop with the idea of adding their characters into the universe.

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On the final day of E3, I was able to get a chance to stand up and play three different segments of the upcoming Kinect title. It’s safe to say that this will be a very memorable and enjoyable title for many younger gamers just getting started in our industry. Featuring 36 activities spread out over 6 levels, Once Upon a Monster strives to deliver the wholesome values of the Sesame Street universe through colorful new characters and returning favorites.

The game opens with Elmo and Cookie Monster uncovering a new children’s book. Upon opening the pages, they find that they are pulled into a new world that is far from home. This world too is populated by monsters. The monster that I met in the demo was an original Double Fine creation named Grrhoof. Despite the fact that he was designed by someone outside of Sesame Workshop, I couldn’t help but imagine children scooping up little plush dolls of him from store shelves just as regularly as they do characters from the show.

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Round, stout, fuzzy and fanged, Grrhoof is having problems making friends with some of the gentler looking creatures in the universe. Even Elmo and Cookie Monster are afraid of him at first. The first activity that I had a chance to sample at the show had me and a representative from Warner Bros. matching poses that Grrhoof performed in front of us. This required us to perform tasks like jumping up and down, marching in place, waving our arms around manically.

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After five minutes, I’d worked up quite a sweat. It was easy to follow along with Grrhoof and there were no penalties for mistakes. This should help non-gaming parents who aren’t very good with games feel encouraged to play along with their children (and of course, the opposite is true). The game is designed to be played by children four and up, but only because the Kinect sensor itself has a hard time recognizing children much younger.

Next up, we had to help Grrhoof collect fireflies to help illuminate his forest home. Fireflies, coming in two sizes, swarm from all sides of the screen. Small fireflies require the player simply wave their hands over them, but for larger fireflies, the player must grab them with both hands. The bigger fireflies squirm a little as the player wraps their hands around them. The theme again was simple and straight-forward. Progress was clearly demonstrated as the screen got brighter and brighter, and it was nice to bring a smile the sad Grrhoof’s face.

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The final mode I got to play was more like EyePets. In an effort to attract some small, fuzzy friends for Grrhoof to play with, players must toss some delicious biscuits to them. If the player’s aim is true, three successful tosses will bring the creatures to the front of the screen where they can be scratched and rubbed. The tiny pink creatures were adorable and interacting with them was a nice reward from some frustration I felt while tossing. It was a little hard to gauge my tosses, though there was a wall directly behind me during my demonstration that might have interfered.

Other than this one time, I never questioned the interaction between myself and the game in any of the other demos, and given the seriousness with which Sesame Workshop treats their properties and the talent on-hand at Double Fine, I have a hard time believing that this release won’t be a solid product. I have high hopes that this will prove to be an excellent product for parents who want a game to play with their younger children. Look out for Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster this fall.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

Gentle persuasion

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