Just about every genre has hit the home console space at one point or another, but not every genre has been successful. Take the edutainment genre, for example. Like the RTS genre, edutainment games have been thought of as something that is better experienced on the PC. That stigma is further cemented by thought that consoles are intended for older kids; younger children may be unable to grasp the nuances of a standard controller, let alone gain knowledge from a console game. That hasn't stopped publishers from trying, though, as everyone from Nintendo to Sega to Sony to Konami has tried its hand at teaching and entertaining kids through the standard console controller. This time around, Storm City Games has decided to give the genre a shot on the Wii with Once Upon A Time, and the idea of putting timeless children's tales on a console aimed solely at families and the mass market turns out to be a fairly good idea, though the execution could have been better.
The concept behind the game is a rather simple one: Take four classic children's stories and turn them into interactive experiences made for kids. The stories chosen for the disc are familiar and timeless. You get the adventures of Little Red Riding Hood, Puss 'N Boots, The Three Little Pigs and The Ugly Duckling, and each one is easily selectable at any time.
There are three modes of play in the game. The first is the simple Story mode, where you're presented with your selected story as it animates before your eyes and is narrated with voice-over for each character and the storyteller herself. Players can either let the story move forward naturally or accelerate the process with the A button. Hitting the 2 button brings you back to the main menu.
The second mode allows you to tell your own story using each of the four tales as your template. Despite what it tells you, though, the mode simply lets you move your Wii cursor around the screen as you point at the various objects. Once the cursor moves over the object, the name of the object is spoken, and the object animates the same way it does in Story mode. Like that mode, hitting the A button moves forward in the story while the 2 button quits to the main menu.
The final mode allows you to play four different minigames, again using the four stories as your template. The Animation minigame has you shaking your Wii Remote anytime something on-screen animates. The Pairs minigame is like Concentration, as you're presented with various pictures placed facedown, and your goal is to make as many matches as possible. Memory has you choosing between one of two pictures as you match it with the image presented above. Finally, Puzzle has you forming a picture from the story out of various square puzzle pieces.
That's all there really is to it. Admittedly, while the minigames and every other mode come off as being rather simple, it does appeal to its target audience which, despite the rating on the box, would be around three to four years old with limited reading ability. That enjoyment comes from the ability to quickly get into and quit any mode at any time with ease and no loading screens. It's a seamless process that parents will enjoy since it means more interactivity for the child and less waiting time. On the other hand, the big problem with the package stems from the Animation minigame. The shaking motion takes a while to register with the game, and considering that it's required throughout any one of the selected stories, there will be more than a few sessions where the child will be hopping around or shaking the Wiimote like crazy before something happens.
The graphics are fine, but it never feels like a major leap from what kids would have seen on similar PC games less than a decade ago. The artwork for each tale is colorful, though the drawings are simple in design. Each tale is animated, though these, too, are a bit simple in movement. In general, each object on screen contains perhaps three or four frames of animation, and while it gives the pictures some life, we've seen animation done better in other kids games, especially the likes of Spy Fox and Freddi Fish, which were released long ago on the PC and have been ported to the Wii. Compared to those, this feels more like the work of a downloadable title instead of something that belongs on a full Wii disc.
There seems to be a little more care taken with the game's audio. The voices for each story are done well, especially the voice of the storyteller, which comes off as warm and inviting. There isn't much in the way of sound effects, though, and the score is generic enough to be considered white noise. It drones on and on through each tale, but at least the melodies differ from section to section.
For $20, Once Upon A Time isn't that bad. On the one hand, you get four classic stories and some simple activities to go along with it. On the other hand, there's not much actual gameplay in the game, and the boring animation minigame decreases the value of the game since it comprises one-fourth of the content. If you have a child around the age of three or four who desperately wants to play on the Wii and can't read too much yet, this isn't that bad of a choice, especially if you want them to learn a bit. If the child is any older than that or can already read, you'd be better off with some of the other edutainment titles that have been ported from the PC to the Wii.
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