The Sesame Street brand is no stranger to video games, with titles featuring Big Bird and company stretching all the way back to the NES era. Though the brand is heavily aimed at the toddler set, it is still capable of delivering a fun experience for those willing to engage. Last year's Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster successfully married the brand with the Kinect in a way that felt natural and resulted in a title that was more technically capable than some Kinect titles intended for older audiences. This year, the brand returns to the system and peripheral with Kinect Sesame Street TV: Season 1, which isn't really a game, per se, but fascinating nonetheless.
The title is billed as a two-way TV experience, something that is old in concept but new in execution. A typical educational show for kids often employs a "call-and-respond" mechanic. This is where the characters from the show ask a question, pause for a given amount of time so that the kids can respond, and then give the answer and some sort of congratulations to acknowledge the response. The only problem that arises from such a system is that there's no way to verify whether the audience reaction was correct. For example, if Big Bird asked kids to recite the alphabet and they count from one to 10 instead, Big Bird would still congratulate them on a job well done. With the Kinect acting as an intermediary between the audience and the program, the feedback is more appropriate, making the "call-and-response" method more impactful.
The product contains eight episodes spread over two discs and is a mix of original content and skits from season 42 of the acclaimed TV series. Though the lessons and featured letters/numbers/actions in each episode are different, the flow remains the same. After the standard show introduction, you're introduced to Cooper, a digital Muppet who provides the first bit of interactivity by putting on a shirt that matches the color of your shirt. He introduces you to the day's letter and activity and then asks you to perform it. From there, the player uses the action in a way that teaches the day's letter or number. There's usually a song followed by a skit that further demonstrates another letter or number. Then there's a longer sequence that acts as a moving hidden object game. Players point at the screen and say "picture" when they've spotted the day's object, and they get to see their photos and virtual stickers once the sequence is over. Another skit and activity follow before the adventure ends with a trip to Elmo's World.
There's a lot to like about the production. Even though he's a digital creation, Cooper looks like he was plucked out of the show. The interactive segments do a good job of kindly encouraging kids to do something, but they don't force the player to do anything. The child can simply watch the whole thing as if it were a typical TV episode. Should the child choose to interact, the game does a great job of reading the movements, as the gestures are general enough for anyone to perform. The title congratulates the child for performing the correct actions while gently encouraging him to try again if he does the wrong thing. What's most impressive is the lack of load times and load screens. Every segment, though separate, flows smoothly into the next with barely a pause, really solidifying the illusion of a TV show but feeling less like a game.
About the only part of each episode that feels too frantic are the segments dealing with Elmo's World. On one hand, these are the most inventive portions since they place the player inside Elmo's house and provide short bursts of full interaction. You can make the stars sway and the moon float, and you can even play the piano keys with your feet. Objects dealing with the episode theme appear on the screen, and you can interact with them accordingly, whether it's watering the plants or kicking the beach ball. The camera starts to employ some rather neat tricks, like showing copies of you body boarding or stretching your image so it looks like you're growing out of the ground. There is a lot here to amuse players, but the sequences are thrown out quickly and at a much different pace than the rest of the episode. The camera still isn't very clear without proper lighting, so if you're playing in a dim room, your image will be noticeably blurry in the virtual world. This is also the only time the show is played on a small screen in the lower right-hand corner. If you just want to watch this portion of the show instead of participating, you won't have much to see.
Eight episodes are included on the discs, but parents who purchase an unused copy of the game gain access to a year of the Kinect Sesame Street TV app, which lets you stream the inaugural season episodes without the discs. The video quality is just as good as the discs, and the response time is similar. The app also gives you a chance to curate a playlist of specific segments to play through in any order you want. Pictures and videos of your performances can also be saved, and you can college items from the hidden object games in a virtual sticker book. There are also a bevy of episodes of "Bert and Ernie's Great Adventures" and the CG episodes of "Abby's Flying Fairy School" as well as an almost endless supply of Sesame Street clips spanning all 42 years. Though it doesn't cover every single skit, the classic clips and celebrity appearances could take a whole afternoon to watch. For Achievement hunters, be forewarned that there's a specific list of Achievements for the app that total up to 1,000 points, giving you a rare opportunity to earn 2,000 points if you get the two-disc set and download the app.
The inclusion of the disc episodes in the app is very forward-thinking since it gives parents the opportunity to stow the discs for safe keeping and use the digital versions of the game instead — all without paying extra for the privilege. However, the app almost belittles the discs since it has much more content for fans. One thing that is a bit disappointing is how the activities from the disc and activities from the app don't seem to recognize each other even though the content overlaps. Getting the stickers from the DVD version, for example, won't register with the app, and the same goes for the videos and pictures taken when you play with the DVD. Even though the targeted audience will play these episodes over and over again, having the rewards carry over from one medium to another would have been nice.
Kinect Sesame Street TV: Season 1 is perfect for those with toddlers who can comprehend the show's lessons and antics. The level of interaction is great, and the flow doesn't feel stilted or burdened with load screens. This is really more of a collection of augmented TV shows than a full-fledged video game, so don't expect the little ones to bounce around all day interacting with every sequence. The whole thing is very well done, and fans of the appropriate age will be more than happy with this first iteration of a more interactive Sesame Street experience.
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