Seemingly, “Two Way TV” is becoming the next big thing for Kinect. Helping to minimise Kinect’s weaknesses, whilst playing to its strengths, Microsoft have put their weight thoroughly behind the idea of interactive TV shows, publishing two seasons of two rather different types of program. For the older kids, we’ve got Kinect Nat Geo, a series of wildlife documentaries that let you “become” the animal in question – while for the younger ones, we’ve got Sesame Street TV.
Taking a similar format to Nat Geo, Kinect Sesame Street TV Series Two is another collection of eight episodes, brought to you by a number, a letter, and an action. Available either as individual episodes for 400 Microsoft Point (£3.40 each) or a 2400 Season Pass that grants you access to all eight episodes forever for just over £20, plus lets you stream hundreds of clips from Sesame Street of years gone by for a year, we’d recommend going for the Season Pass over the individual option, as there’s not really enough in a single episode to keep a child occupied for all that long.
Aimed squarely at the same age group as the TV show itself (mostly those in nursery/reception), Kinect Sesame Street TV brings all your child's favourite characters, from Big Bird to Grover, from the Cookie Monster to Elmo together, mixing footage taken from the TV show with all-new interactive segments that are designed to get your child involved. Thanks to Kinect, your child can interact with the program by simply calling out, or making gestures at the appropriate time. As each episode’s “brought to you by” a certain move, you’ll likely find them doing a lot of jumping and throwing as they play through each episode.
Rather than follow a rigid segment structure, though, there’s a lot of variety in the episodes themselves. Some segments may encourage you to join in singing a song, point when you see something, or even talk to the characters themselves, while other segments don’t really ask you to do anything at all. In fact, all the movements and interactions in the game are completely optional – if your child would rather just sit there and watch the show, there’s nothing to stop them doing it, and everything will carry on as normal. There’s no failing, and no punishment for getting things wrong, either, which is important for young children who may get put off by failing. Much like the TV show, everything here is heavily educational, too, whether it’s shapes, numbers, letters, emotions, or strangely, even learning words in Spanish – although Kinect does have its own foibles you’ll need to get used to.
Unfortunately, the Kinect integration hasn’t worked as well here as it did in Kinect Nat Geo. For starters, you can’t actually play the game sitting down, meaning your little one will have to stand for the entire half an hour - or at the very least, keep getting up and sitting down. Gesture recognition, and even voice tracking are hit and miss at best, too, with the game often taking several attempts to realise we were making a throwing gesture, while at times, the voice recognition didn’t seem to work at all. At one point, we were shown a sad Elmo sitting on a doorstep, as the game suggested that we should say “Hi”, before seeing if we could cheer him up, by telling him that we’re there for him. Before we’d even had chance to open our mouth and take a breath, though, the game decided we’d already said something, and carried on. Of course, it's hard to complain when a game's decided you've done something right without you even having to move a muscle, but it can be frustrating to older children when they realise they're not actually in as much control as they'd hoped. It's important to note that the game doesn't look for you to say specific things, either - it seems to just track you making a noise instead, so younger children who have a way to go in terms of elocution will be OK.
Some of the other segments suffer from similar problems with voice recognition. One such section is a quiz show, which, in a move that put smiles on our children’s faces, started with the muppety presenter introducing today’s contestant – “you!”, by showing a video of them on the screen. Teaming up with the letter J, it was up to them to clap when they saw a video of something that began with the letter J. To help younger children out, the letter J will tell you what you’re looking at – “J... J... J... Jacket!” - at which point you have to break into a round of applause if you think it begins with the letter J. Sadly, though, it’s a little bit more awkward than we’d like, as the game seems to really struggle picking up applause. As you have to clap enough to fill up a meter, it could sometimes be a bit hit and miss as to whether it'd actually detect enough claps to fill the meter in time. Although there’s no penalty for getting your answer wrong, it can be both frustrating and confusing for kids who know they’ve got the answer right, only for the game to tell them it’s wrong.
One of the more demanding sections of each episode comes roughly in the middle, where you’ll get the chance to watch a fairly lengthy clip from the TV show. However, there’s a bit of a twist. At least twelve items (either spanners, or stars, etc) have been hidden in various places around the clip, and it’s up to you to find them by pointing at the screen, and yelling “picture” when you spot one in order to take a photo. It’s surprisingly tricky, as you and your children will find yourself getting carried away watching the clip rather than keeping an eye out for the shapes – although if you don't spot them all first time, you've got an excuse to go back round again for a second try.
Of course, sticking true to its young target audience, and their often repetitious viewing habits, you don’t have to sit through an entire episode of Sesame Street if you don’t want to. Through the menu, you can choose to either watch a favourite segment on its own, or, if you’ve taken out a Season Pass, watch a collection of (non-interactive) segments from TV shows gone by, filtered by a range of options including category and character. If you've ever wanted to watch non-stop Cookie Monster, now’s your chance. Unfortunately, though, Kinect Sesame Street TV isn't the sort of game you can leave your child to set up for themselves – with options to buy episodes or seasons scattered around the place, that would be all to easy for young fingers to stumble across and buy (if you don’t have parental controls set up on your account), the menu as a whole isn’t all that user friendly, with options spread over several pages rather than being centrally organised. It can certainly take some getting used to.
And perhaps that’s the biggest problem with Kinect Sesame Street TV. If you have a little Sesame Street fan, the chances are they’ll appreciate the chance to play, sing, and dance along with all their favourite characters – so long as they can get their heads around Kinect, and Kinect can get its head around them. It’s odd that we experienced so many problems with this one, when Kinect Nat Geo worked so well – especially in terms of voice/sound recognition. We reviewed this in the same room, with the same people, and the same lighting conditions, so we can only put the problems down to the game itself rather than anything specific about our set up. On the plus side, however, you can download the episodes here to your hard drive rather than having to rely on streaming them (like in Kinect Nat Geo), which is a much better idea. It's also worth keeping in mind that although the TV show is aimed at children aged 3 to 5, Kinect has a "minimum height" it'll work with of around 3' 3". It's hard to give any specific guidance about this, as a lot depends on the height you have your camera mounted at, and the height of your child, but there's a good chance the younger half of the target audience won't be able to play.
In the end, though, if your Sesame Street fan’s desperate for a Kinect game, we’d go for Once Upon a Monster first – if they get on with that, then this may well be worth a look.