When this game was thrust into my hands by my editor, I was concerned at what was going through his head at the time. Granted, he has seen my writing capabilities at two in the morning after a night of drinking – but giving me a game for toddlers was on a bit on the nose. However he quickly reminded me that I do have a set of twins on the way (due this November) and considering my looming transition into fatherhood, this could be great practice. Possibly for when my mind turns to mush from lack of sleep.
Kinect Sesame Street isn't a game as such; it's more of an interactive experience of the legendary television show featuring our muppety pals Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Elmo, Cookie Monster, creepy Bert, and more. Young viewers of the show today will note that Kinect Sesame Street closely follows the 2011-2012 season and its modern-day cast, but there is plenty of 'old school' Sesame Street on offer here for parents with nostalgic memories too.
It is the first game in Microsoft's Kinect range to introduce 'two-way television' gameplay, but this isn't exactly a new concept. Kids shows like Blue's Clues and Dora the Explorer have long included sequences where the TV will ask their kid audience to answer questions and pause for their response. But the problem here is that the TV has no way of knowing if the kids were yelling out the right answer, or anything even recognisable as human language. Often poor old Steve or Big Bird could be reinforcing the fact that 3 comes after 1 or that Grover is actually a yellow hermaphrodite. Kinect can change all of that.
Combining children's entertainment with interactive Kinect technology is a no-brainer. While the motion-capture camera isn't ideal for high precision gaming, it is perfect for picking out little limbs dancing and waving around, while the in-built microphone is ideal for tiny lungs hollering out answers.
For example, at one stage in the interactive episode (which plays out just like an episode of the TV show), you meet Grover and Cookie Monster in the street. Mr. Monster, in his typical lust for cookies, has bowled over Grover who happened to be carrying a box of 4 coconuts. It's a typical day in the street alright.
But instead of watching Grover pick them up and carry on, now viewers can help out their blue furry clumsy chum. Picking up and throwing imaginary coconuts at the screen literally has them flying toward Grover who will catch them in his box in front of your eyes. Sometimes it helps to have an adult to help demonstrate what needs to be done, but with careful visual and audio cues, most kids will have no problem in getting stuck in.
It is worth noting that the developers have even accounted for those a bit hesitant to get off the couch. Unlike previous 'learning games', Kinect Sesame Street doesn't get stuck in an endless loop if the audience decides not to partake. In this instance, Cookie Monster comes back and picks up a coconut to progress the sequence, allowing for the viewers to try to help with the next bit instead. Thanks to the in-built microphone, viewers will get a chance to yell out numbers to help Grover count his hairy nuts too. The end result plays out just like a personalised episode of Sesame Street intended for your kids only.
Another section of Kinect Sesame Street takes place in the wonderfully insane Elmo's World. Just like in the TV segment of the same name, everything here is hand-drawn and the screen comes to life with colourful charm. Using Kinect, players can step right into Elmo's World and interact with a multitude of objects, watching themselves on TV as if they were a star in the show. From here they can bash objects, chase friendly lions, and play music, all while Elmo giggles and encourages you to... basically go a little bit nuts. It's great fun and an excellent way to try and burn off some of that sugar for a restful night's sleep. In this section, the educational aspects are lost significantly. But games are meant to be fun as well, right?
I can't wait until the twins are old enough to try this stuff out. While I'll never condone the television set as a baby-sitter, this level of interactivity and intelligent responsiveness does help bridge the gap between 'mindless moving pictures' and 'stimulating multimedia'.
Kinect Sesame Street is broken down into two educational volumes: one is all about 'Growing Up' and teaches them about siblings and how to break the pacifier habit, the other is themed around Science and teaches very basic physics and observational discovery. In a fun and accessible way, this title will help with literacy, social, mathematical, and emotional skills in some shape or form. There are eight episodes included on the game disc and with each one taking up to 45 minutes to complete (depending on the audience), Kinect Sesame Street offers a quality amount of gameplay for the cost. There will also be additional episodes (some free of charge for owners of the game) available online as well.
Sadly by the time my twins are old enough, we'll probably be up to Kinect 3.7, where it will monitor your blood pressure and check for Vitamin C deficiencies while you sing the 'ABC song'. But for now, those with little ones in the household, a Kinect-equipped console, and a decent amount of safe living area by the TV, you should give Kinect Sesame Street a go and watch the fun that unfolds.