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Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster preview: Tickle me, Double Fine


"One of the things that I'm personally really passionate about -- the reason I'm in this industry -- is that I want to see our medium be more than it is already," Double Fine's Nathan Martz, and project lead on Once Upon a Monster, confided in me at a Microsoft press event yesterday. "Our human experience is so broad and yet our industry deals with such a narrow slice of it."

Martz explained that the project was conceived with the express purpose of generating joy. "I wanted to explore emotions," Martz said of his goal going into development. "For me, the best one is joy. The early example of this is a girl I was dating at the time. She asked me if I had a 'happy' song, a song that you hear and it just makes you feel great. Everybody has a happy song, and that was originally the name of this project: 'Happy Song.'"

I'll admit it: Playing a bit of Once Upon a Monster was a happy experience, one I think would be even more so for families and kids a little younger than myself.

Gallery: Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster (Xbox 360) | 3 Photos

Presented as a story book, titled Once Upon a Monster, the game is divided into chapters. In the chapter I previewed, the monsters, led by Cookie Monster, Grover and Elmo, were working together to help their friend have the best birthday ever. "The world and characters are brand-new, Double Fine creations," Martz said, speaking of the foundational elements of the game, before it was integrated with the Sesame Street license. "We actually created a lot of this before Sesame Street was involved."

In gameplay terms, the chapter involved working with another player to run through a fantastically vibrant, "electrified" forest. (Cooperative play is one element the title has going for it over the similarly family-friendly Kinectimals.)

While I controlled Elmo, another player leaned and jumped to steer the monster whose shoulders I was on out of harm's way. For my part, I'd lean to help dodge, reach my arms out to touch collectibles and duck in order to, well, duck. The characters responded quickly -- even with a crowd of people close-by -- and, in the case of my "Elmo arms," precisely.

Later, the segment transitioned into a dance sequence, led by Grover -- a sort of Dance Central super-lite. This minigame was a simple "mirror the monster" setup, where striking a pose that looked vaguely similar to what was being shown on screen (and holding it for a five-count) was good enough.

Needless to say, it's a very simple game, but the kind excuted with craft and beauty -- the sort of design elements that fuel Once Upon a Monster's driving goal: joy. I can think of few things more joy-inspiring for little kids than working with their parents or older siblings to give a cuddly monster his best birthday ever.

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