Kinect Sesame Street TV and Kinect Nat Geo TV are the first wave of Microsoft’s newest Kinect experiment that’s being called 2-Way TV, or essentially, the long-unrealized dream of interactive TV. Rather than the traditional passive experience, the goal is to use the Kinect hardware to bring viewers into the show with interactive elements. For a first attempt, there are few choices better than Sesame Street, which is a perfect match for what Microsoft is trying to do here, and as Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster demonstrated, Kinect can be the ideal tool for engaging, entertaining, and educating preschoolers.
Whereas previous Sesame Street games, including Once Upon a Monster have been completely original creations built around the characters and style of the show, Kinect Sesame Street TV starts with real episodes of the show, then adds light interactive elements on top. That sort-of improves the experience of watching the show, but it never approaches the level of being a game, instead creating a new kind of interactive entertainment hybrid that shows the concept works, even if it doesn’t quite work perfectly.
Season 1 of Kinect Sesame Street TV features eight 30-minute episodes that originally aired from September 2011 – January 2012, divided into two discs built around the themes of Growing Up and Science, including dealing with siblings, saying goodbye to a pacifier, buoyancy and bubbles. In traditional Sesame Street style, each episode educates children about the particular topic with a mix of storytelling, songs, and sketches, featuring all of the familiar faces from the show, both puppet and human.
That means lively appearances by favorite friends like Elmo, Grover, Bert & Ernie, and Abby Cadabby, while also welcoming Copper, an all-new digital muppet who introduces each episode. The characters speak directly to the children, offering information and instructions along with the stories, with Kinect adding interactive elements.
That’s where the implementation of 2-Way TV finds its limitations. Or really, we should be saying 1.5-Way TV, since what’s here doesn’t quite live up the hype. The problem is, the interactive elements feel very tacked on, largely because that’s what they seem to be. Each of the episodes is a mix of original show footage and new content created for the game, and you can very quickly tell which is which, because the show material just can’t engage children in the same way, leading to more watching and less playing.
But then you get little things like Copper using his mirror sidekick (showing the reflection of the young player) to dress in the same color as the child, and you can see the potential when the game was able to create its own content. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough of that, which is perhaps something that could be remedied in Season 2.
Now it’s always hard to tell with preschoolers, but there’s a good chance they might not even notice, if they’re just engrossed in the show, but older kids might wonder where the play aspect of the game is, which definitely happened with my five year-old daughter. She kept wondering when she would get to play, and the interactive elements seemed to be beneath her interest level, while her younger brother was more interested in just watching the episode. The upside is, since we’re talking about Sesame Street, even if the experience isn’t perfect, kids should still be entertained and educated.
The 30 minute length for each episode is also just right, following the Sesame Street playbook of mixing a variety of shorter segments to keep children focused, touching on the episode’s theme in a number of different ways. It’s also ideal for parents to be able to manage their preschooler’s gaming time, limiting play to a healthy 30 minutes per session. To help keep the pace moving, the game doesn’t slow down during the interactive portions if a child is unable or uninterested in participating. Instead, the show just keeps on going, which was a smarter choice over bringing things to a halt and forcing children to interact.
The retail version also includes a code for a one-year Season Pass to even more online Sesame Street content, including thousands of video and music clips, complete seasons of Abby’s Flying Fairy School, Bert & Ernie’s Great Adventures, and digital versions of the Season 1 episodes. I don’t know if you can get that online, but the fact is that the Season Pass download is a great bonus that will provide a year of great content for families, and that’s something we can definitely appreciate.
The GamerPops Recommendation
Kinect Sesame Street TV gives a tantalizing glimpse of the future of interactive TV, but it also clearly shows that we’re in the present not the future. But when you take something as fundamentally outstanding as Sesame Street, it’s hard to go wrong, even if 2-Way TV doesn’t quite live up to the billing.
Having grown up with Sesame Street, and now experiencing the same with my children, I’m happy with the package that Kinect Sesame Street TV offers, but I’m more excited about what the future could bring, and I strongly hope that Microsoft and its partners will continue to create new Kinect TV packages for viewers of all ages. For this year’s first entry at least, Season 1 hits the mark in terms of education and entertainment, and I believe there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about the next season and beyond.
A review copy was provided to GamerPops.
ESRB Rating Summary
Rating: Early Childhood
Content descriptors: No Descriptors
Rating summary: This is an educational activity game in which players interact with full episodes of Sesame Street. Players use their own body movements to complete various motion-based activities: tossing a ball in between two haystacks; snapping pictures of on-screen characters; and catching/counting coconuts.