It’s no secret within the gaming industry that Tim Schafer’s studio, Double Fine Productions, is universally revered for the heart and soul that they dump into each and every one of their titles. With five completely unique games under their belt, Double Fine has somehow crafted all of them in such a way that they grow on the player — they’re more than forgettable interactions; they’re memorable experiences.
For their sixth studio endeavor, Double Fine has tackled a project with a few obvious pitfalls. Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster is a licensed title, with a limited target audience of “young children and their parents”, and full-blown Kinect integration. Honestly, with most developers at the helm, this would have been a recipe for underwhelming mediocrity. However, to Double Fine’s credit, they’ve managed to smoothly sidestep these traps and place their signature identity on the game, which has allowed them to carve out a title that will have at least some appeal to most audiences.
Once Upon A Monster follows Elmo and Cookie Monster through six chapters of a story book as they help different monsters with their problems. The chapters are split into pages, each containing a new activity to further progress the story. Some examples of the quick-moving narratives are: putting on a play; helping with garden upkeep; and organizing a marching band, but, the more important lessons are the overarching themes such as acceptance, generosity, and friendship.
To complete these stories, there’s a bit of legwork to be done. Each page features a relatively unique activity such as navigating an obstacle course, selecting wardrobes, or the occasionally dance number. You’ll see a number of these same basics pop up a number of times through the game’s thirty-some odd pages, but they’re varied enough to keep from become repetitive.
As could be expected from a children’s game, Once Upon A Monster keeps the activities pretty simple. Instructions are shouted out by Elmo or Cookie Monster before the start of each one, and then usually in the middle as well. If the game finds your performance lacking, it won’t fail you; it’ll calmly pull you along to the finish as if you’d succeeded. With fair evaluation in mind, it may feel counter-intuitive for a game to do that, but Once Upon A Monster isn’t in the business of providing a challenge; it’s here to provide a family-friendly learning experience for young children.
There is, however, one metric for measuring performance within the activities — Stars. Each exercise has a possible five stars to attain. This is where adults may find a bit of replayability in Once Upon A Monster, as it’s a bit humbling and defeating to not initially earn all five stars on any given page.
Given their audience, one of Double Fine’s wisest implementations was that of super-smooth drop-in/drop-out multiplayer. Seeing as how kids have the attention span of, well, kids, there’s a good chance that they may become temporarily disinterested. Still, as long as there’s one player active, the game won’t come to a grinding halt. Rather, it’ll move along as if nothing had happened, and should the other player come back, they’ll be added to the mix just as fluidly.
The most brilliant aspect of Once Upon A Monster lies within the environments that Double Fine have created. The bright backdrops that litter the game are absolutely intoxicating, whether you’re navigating a mystical forest or staring up at the constellation-riddled sky. Furthermore, the game’s voicework is top-notch which certainly goes a long ways toward bringing the characters to life. Once Upon A Monster thrives because of the excellent job that the development team did ensuring that the presentation turned out as impeccable as it did.
All things considered, Once Upon A Monster is yet another solid title from the team at Double Fine. Impressively, they were able to inject their charm and signature touch into a game that’s a bit outside their normal parameters. While some may be a bit off-put by Once Upon A Monster’s approximate 3-5 hour run-time, children will most likely find a ton of replayability, as they’ll be eager to once again enter that magical world full of their favorite characters. It seems as if Double Fine has created another game that can be chalked up as a memorable experience, except this time, it’ll be a younger side of you doing the remembering.