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Sesame Street: 123 (NES) artwork

Sesame Street: 123 (NES) review

"None of this is rocket science, and none of it is meant to be. The concern I have is that even the most ‘difficult’ of these can be completed with enough guesses. Completed games don't necessarily mean your kids have learned a single thing. I don’t really see how this could be a solid educational tool, and it’s definitely not fun. Even small children will get sick of it within a few minutes."

This morning, I was just thinking to myself that I don’t have enough boring educational games in my collection. As I pored over my stack of NES games, though, I realized there was one special surprise I’d still not played: Sesame Street 1-2-3. The minute I stumbled upon this pleasant discovery, my delight was so bountiful that I jumped into the air and got my head stuck in the ceiling. Okay, so I made that part up. That would have been painful. Almost as painful as playing this wretched excuse for a game.

A lot of times, when you play an educational video game, there’s at least some emphasis on the ‘game’ side of things. The developers manage good graphics, a somewhat engaging format, a little education, and good enough control that learning is never overly frustrating (and in the best of cases, perhaps even fun). Unfortunately, the developer dropped the ball this time around. What surprises me even more is that it appears Rare was the one that produced this steaming pile. It’s not fun, it’s not educational, and most of all it feels like it was thrown together in two or three days.

The way the game works is this: you select one of two game styles, then you choose your lesson. The lessons grow more difficult as you pick the ones listed lower on the screen, and range from ‘Fetus’ to ‘Newborn’ in terms of overall challenge. I’m not entirely sure, but I do think a preschooler would soon master everything there is on the cartridge. Sadly, it never really gets more difficult than that. When you’re aiming at 3-year-olds and you make the game too easy for your target audience, you know there’s a problem.

In case, for some reason, you’re still interested in what this game has to offer, I’ll dispense with the generalities and we can look at specifics.

The first of the two games is “Ernie’s Magic Shapes.” You can select several variations, but the way it mostly works is this: Ernie stands behind a curtained desk at the left side of the screen, while to the right there’s a giant top hat turned upside-down. Above Ernie, there’s a shape of one color or another. The goal is to match that shape (and color, in some cases) with any number of shapes that may appear to the right. All you do is cycle through what the game offers you until you see the match, then press the ‘A’ button to confirm that you wish to plop that shape into the hat. Once you do, Ernie will move his wand and the shape drops in. If you guessed correctly, a rabbit pops out and gives you the thumbs-up sign before you repeat the exercise. If you were wrong, though, the rabbit will peek out from behind the hat and shake his head discouragingly. Then you get to try again.

If you’re cycling through the shapes and you accidentally flip over the one you wanted, there’s no going back; you can only advance forward, so you’ll have to go through several more selections to get back to the one you actually meant to use. This is just stupid, and it even spills over to menu selection. It’s like Rare wanted to make the game as frustrating as possible. Or maybe they thought kids were too stupid to press more than two buttons when playing the actual game.

Anyway, it’s likely you’ll soon tire of the ‘magic’ shapes game. After guessing correctly a few times, you’ll blessedly be taken back to the ‘magic shapes’ selection screen (pressing ‘Select’ or ‘Start’ accomplishes the same, if you want to abandon a game early), where you can choose one of the other variations. There’s no fanfare or anything special. It’s just back to the screen all of a sudden. Since the most those variations will force you to do is assemble a picture out of a few simple shapes, you’re probably so tired of the whole exercise that you’ll want to play the cartridge’s other ‘game.’ If so, you’ll have to reset the NES. There’s no other way to do it. Again, just plain stupid.

So, what about that other game? Is it any better? Well, yes. But it still sucks, and it brings with it a new share of flaws.

The “Astro Grover” game (which you must select from the menu by pressing ‘down,’ not ‘select’) is focused more on math and counting. In all honesty, it should be the game’s main attraction. Rare probably thought it was too difficult for little kids, though, so they put it on the back burner.

Regardless of what Rare thought, though, this mode is not even remotely difficult. It does at least have more difference between its variations. The first of these has you looking at a cityscape while a little space ship wiggles around in the air overhead. It will do this for around ten seconds (during which time all you can do is watch), before spending another few seconds beaming out a number of little ‘zips’ (they look like aliens). From there, you select a number from the strip along the bottom of the screen. The selector starts in the middle at the ‘five’, and pressing ‘left’ or ‘right’ on the controller will cause it to move first right toward the ‘nine.’ This means if you wish to input a ‘three,’ you must slide all the way over to the right side, then back over to the left. It’s tedious and, as I’ve mentioned before, rather stupid.

Now, when you make your pick, a number of things can happen. The moon will either shake his head to let you know you’re stupid, or the space ship will slowly beam the zips again, they’ll disappear, part of the cityscape will light up, and you’ll repeat the entire lame process. There’s no penalty for guessing wrong. Eventually, when you get enough right, you’ll witness a simple animation where Grover floats around the screen, then it’s back to the menu selection. Every round takes forever, and mashing buttons to speed things up does no good whatsoever.

Variations of this game aren’t much better. They typically involve counting and, on the most difficult of levels, adding together numbers until they equal the desired integer (for example, you’ll be given choices of a few digits, and you just keep adding them until you get the desired total). None of this is rocket science, and none of it is meant to be. The concern I have is that even the most ‘difficult’ of these can be completed with enough guesses. Completed games don't necessarily mean your kids have learned a single thing. I don’t really see how this could be a solid educational tool, and it’s definitely not fun. Even small children will get sick of it within a few minutes. They’re better off watching the television show. Put simply, Sesame Street 1-2-3 fails on every conceivable level. Do not play it (or force your children to) under any circumstance. Period.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (May 29, 2004)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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