Game: Kinect Sesame Street TV
Developer: Microsoft Studios – Soho Productions
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Available on: Xbox 360 Kinect only
Sesame Street is the best kids telly show that the United States has ever produced – FACT. Forget about how irritating Elmo is, that YouTube video of the Elmo toys “shagging” not withstanding, and look at the rich history of Sesame Street. It has been around since the year man walked on the moon. It has attracted legendary figures like Jim Henson and Frank Oz to contribute their abilities to crafting the show. Some of the creations are simply brilliant, the number-crunching vampire Count, bin-dwelling Oscar the Grouch, and the sexually ambivalent Big Bird are just a small selection of the classic characters we have come to know and love. The list of celebrities and sports heroes that have appeared as guests alongside the loveable array of muppetry would shame Michael Parkinson. Michael Jackson wouldn’t have been seen dead near a Tweenie – if you excuse the unfortunate expression – yet he appeared on Sesame Street as unquestionably the most famous and recognisable person on the planet. I once watched an episode in which my beloved New York Jets rocked up. Another time, Herbie Hancock came on and gave a demo of the legendary Fairlight synthesizer. I love Sesame Street.
Now, I will get one thing out of the way; Kinect Sesame Street TV is not a game. If you want a full-on Sesame Street video game experience, then you need to be picking up Double Fine’s superb Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster and playing that. Kinect Sesame Street TV is Microsoft Studios – Soho Production’s stab at an interactive, augmented reality TV show, that provides a number of well implemented Kinect features and is an excellent educational tool for young children, as well as being a top-drawer guilty pleasure for adults like me, thirty-something blokes who get a rush of childlike excitement when they hear Joe Raposo’s classic jangly intro music.
The interactive fun is anchored by Cooper, a loveable disembodied orange head, who introduces the eight episodes featured across the two discs included in the box. The episodes are all drawn from season 42 (!) of the show, and are split into two sections, “Growing Up” and “Science”. The subject matter is, as you would expect, well chosen and perfect for the target audience, covering such topics as a child saying goodbye to using a dummy (“Goodbye Pacifier”), the relationship between brothers and sisters, and how bubbles are made. In addition to the Kinect content, you also receive a voucher code granting a “season pass” to a veritable treasure trove of Sesame Street-related content, including hours of clips and videos, and access to spin-off series like Abby’s Flying Fairy School and Bert & Ernie’s Great Adventures. You also get digital versions of all of the episodes on the discs too. Awesome.
So how does the Kinect interaction work? There are numerous well-worked ways for you and your kids to get involved. For starters, I challenge you to find me an under-5 who wouldn’t be impressed with the fact that, down to the magic of the technology, Cooper will accurately identify the colour of the player’s (viewers?) clothing at the jump-off. And you know how on kiddies shows, there are call-and-response sections? Sesame Street have long been the kings of this type of thing, asking the young viewers answers to sums, to recite a letter of the alphabet, and here, rather than having natural pauses and no reply, the Kinect recognises your voice and before you know it you will be… I mean “your kids will be” screaming out numbers to help Grover count his coconuts, or pointing at the screen and shouting when they identify objects in the fun hidden item searches that feature in each episode. The motion sensing controls are great too. Kinect works best when it is kept simple. Something as complex as Steel Battalion failed miserably due to the lack of finesse and inaccuracy. This works just fine, as what kids are expected to do is straightforward yet, crucially, not simplistic enough to insult the intelligence of young people who are pretty much straight out of nappies and into an MMORPG these days.
Every episode ends with a kind of blowout, not-really-educational section where you are granted the opportunity to enter Elmo’s World. The cute, squeaky-voiced fluorescent fella is in rare form here, and his section allows you – or of course your child – to get up to all manner of shenanigans. Chasing animals, being chased by animals, playing music, hitting stuff, and all in a charming hand drawn “kiddified” world that could have come straight out of the Crayola drawings you normally see pinned to a fridge or tacked to a nursery school wall. Tickle Me Elmo? It tickled me pink.
VERDICT: Combining the superb educational nous and premium kids telly experience of Sesame Street with excellent Kinect flourishes that actually work? If you have kids under the age of five this is a no-brainer. It has to be the most fun educational “gaming” experience I have played for some time, and I just wish I had played on it before we recorded our recent Saint & Greensie podcast about the topic. The wealth of extra content makes the package even more entertaining and there are even a whopping 2000 gamerscore points available here – making it undoubtedly the cheapest way to earn 2000G, although Seany says “Shame on you” if you buy or rent it just for that, and I will personally see to it that God kills a kitten if you do. Kinect was made for this sort of thing. I would certainly be much more happy for a little person to spend a few hours with this than just mindlessly watching telly.