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‘Once Upon A Monster’ tells gamers how to get to Sesame Street

Plugged In

Tim Schafer is responsible for some of the most critically-acclaimed titles in the video game industry. But when word came down that he and his team at Double Fine Productions would be making a Sesame Street game for Microsoft Kinect, it caught everyone by surprise.

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Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster

Schafer's games -- which include cult-hit Psychonauts and heavy metal adventure romp Brütal Legend -- are known for their quirky, adult sense of humor, making the jump to the most famous name in children's programming a little bizarre.

As it turns out, though, it might be the perfect move for both Schafer and the show.

'Once Upon A Monster,' which hits store shelves Oct. 11 for the Xbox 360, lets kids interact with the likes of Cookie Monster, Elmo and Grover as they explore an interactive storybook, learning simple lessons along the way.

It's more than just a smart way to get grown-ups and kids playing together, however. When it comes to game consoles, the days haven't exactly been sunny for the Sesame Street gang.

Kids games, typically, have been viewed as the creative wasteland of game consoles. Because the audience isn't exactly discerning -- and the prices are lower than standard releases -- publishers have been shoveling out titles of mid- to low-quality for years. Most games have lived or died on the strength of their source franchise.

By tapping a developer as popular as Schafer, though, the Children's Television Workshop (which is behind all things Sesame Street) and publisher Warner Bros. Interactive have accomplished the unthinkable: Making a kid's game cool.

"Once Upon A Monster is the educational game I've been wanting since I first had kids," said Game Informer's Jeff Cork, who has already awarded the game an 85 rating.

"Is it okay for a grown man to get excited over a Sesame Street game? Actually: Don't care!" wrote Games Radar when the title was announced earlier this year.

Despite the love, 'Once Upon A Monster' is in no way a threat to Halo, Call of Duty or any other major gaming franchise. It is very much a kid's game. Focused squarely on the timeless Sesame Street formula of combining fun and education in a seamless, organic way, the game uses the Kinect motion sensing peripheral to let toddlers bypass clunky game controllers and control the actions using simple gestures.

Parents aren't excluded, though, as the game is designed for the family to play together by dancing, jumping and 'flying'. (It also has more than a few inside jokes to amuse parents as they play with their kids.) And, as you'd expect with any game carrying the Sesame Street name, it also aims to teach young ones a lesson or two about making friends, cooperation and facing fears.

'Once Upon A Monster' is far from the first Sesame Street game, of course. It's not even the first one this year.

Games like 'Ready, Set Grover!' or 'Elmo's A-to-Zoo Adventure', however, haven't exactly lit up the charts. 'Once Upon A Monster', on the other hand, had grizzled veterans of the industry lining up to play it at the E3 video game expo in June.

The average gamer is now 37 years old, according to the Entertainment Software Association. At present, though, just 45 percent of parents play video games with their kids on a weekly basis.

That's due, in part, to the quality (or lack thereof) of kids' games and the fact that most of those titles never ping their radar, since they largely go ignored by game writers and magazines.

'Once Upon A Monster' is expected to be different, though. Schafer's stellar reputation with players has created a lingering curiosity about the title. Critics who have steadily ignored other Sesame Street video game releases are sure to give this one a shot (it's already enjoying strong reviews), leading to increased coverage despite that troublesome 'educational' tag.  And that could result in a game that not only becomes a true family hit, but a moneymaker as well.

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