Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

#178 – Sesame Street 1-2-3

Easy as 1-2-3

Each game has a more detailed looking title screen than this one.

To Beat: Complete All Modes
Played: 5/27/21 – 5/28/21
Difficulty: 1/10
My Difficulty: 1/10
My Video: Sesame Street 1-2-3 Full Playthrough

As much as I enjoy a good challenge, I’m also keen on short, quick entries.  Not only do they get quickly marked off the list, but they also get added to my ever-growing backlog of reviews!  Today we are taking steps in the right direction!  There are several Sesame Street titles on the NES, which I imagine were in-demand both as a way to help kids learn the basics in a fun way and as a way for parents to justify having video games in the house if they can also be made educational.  These weren’t just cash grabs either, as they are very well made in order to be as engaging as possible.  Sesame Street 1-2-3 is the first of these games that has more in store than just teaching counting.

I touched on Sesame Street briefly in my review for Muppet Adventure, so now we will take a closer look.  Sesame Street is an educational TV series created by TV producer Joan Ganz Cooney and Carnegie Corporation vice president Lloyd Morriset, as a way to use television for good by tapping into its addictive qualities to help prepare young children for school.  After a period of research and preparation, the show premiered on PBS in 1969.  As of this writing, there have been over 4500 episodes throughout its 54 seasons, and it has won over 200 Emmy awards.  The show has evolved over the years to keep up with research in early childhood development, as well as following the trends in how toddlers consume media.

There have been many, many Sesame Street video games over the years, way too many to count.  The earliest known Sesame Street game that I could find is Ernie’s Quiz, released for the Apple II in 1981.  The NES received five Sesame Street carts, the first of which is Sesame Street 1-2-3.  It was released in January 1989, developed by Zippo Games and published by Hi-Tech Expressions.  Zippo Games, the company founded by Ste and John Pickford, was contracted by Rare to develop NES games, starting with Sesame Street 1-2-3.

Shapes come out of the hat, find ones that match

This game is a port of two existing games, Astro Grover and Ernie’s Magic Shapes, which were released for several home computers in 1984.  Astro Grover is a counting and basic arithmetic game, while Ernie’s Magic Shapes is all about shape matching and color matching.  Each game has multiple sub-modes that get more advanced as you go.  This game has no ending.  The best we can do is to play each mode long enough until it brings you back to the menu screen.

The first game listed is Ernie’s Magic Shapes, so we’ll go to this one first.  This game has six modes, plus an introductory mode showing you how to play, how convenient!  The basic idea is that there will be a shape displayed over Ernie’s head, and he can conjure new shapes out of his magic hat.  Press any key on the D-pad to switch to a different shape out of the hat.  When both shapes match, press either A or B to test that shape out.  If you’re correct, you’ll get a cute animation and a melody to celebrate, along with a rabbit out of the hat, of course.  Press Select or Start to exit the mode and go back to the Ernie’s Magic Shapes menu.

Each of the six modes when selected from the menu displays a description of what you’ll be doing.  The first two modes, Presto Shape-O and Abracadabra…Colors!, are the most basic shape matching and color matching, respectively.  Zip Zap the Shapes begins with a picture made up of multiple shapes.  You have to identify if the shape presented is part of the target image, and you’ll match enough times to complete the full picture.  Poof Pop the Colors is this same idea but with matching colors.  Shazam! More Shapes is harder shape matching, which is the same as Zip Zap the Shapes with a little bit more complicated pictures to match.  The final mode is Ta Dah! What a Figure, listed as “Hardest of all.”  It’s just matching pictures of multiple shapes with different colors, combining what we’ve already done into one game mode.

Martian counting never looked so good.

Now let’s talk about Astro Grover.  This is a math game with five different sub-modes.  You interface with the game using the number line at the bottom of the screen.  Use Left and Right on the D-pad to move a cursor that circles one of the numbers from 1 to 9.  Press A or B to choose that number.  You can also press Select or Start to exit the mode and go back to the Astro Grover main menu.

The first mode is How Many Zips, which are little green Martians that emerge from a spaceship.  When they have finished leaving the ship, you count them up and choose the correct number from the bottom.  Done correctly, they will enter the ship and then part of the cityscape in the background will be colored in.  When the entire city is colored in, you’ll get the ending tune and well as an animation of Grover flying about.  Some of the other modes share this basic structure.

The next mode, Beam That Number, plays a bit differently.  This time Zips are scattered on the screen, along with three satellite dishes at the bottom and a rocket ship on the right.  The ship has a number written on it.  The satellites will cast a beam around the Zips causing a group of them to flash.  You want that flashing group to equal the number on the spaceship.  If they match, they beam into the satellite for some reason, and the ship flies a little bit upward.  Once the ship gets high enough you get the ending fanfare.

The other modes are based on one of the two prior modes.  Adding Countdown plays out on the cityscape.  A group of zips will fly in, you choose the correct count.  A second group flies in and you count those too.  Then you add both groups together and select that count as well.  Repeat this process to color the entire city.  Take It Away, Zips! is the same game as above with subtraction instead of addition.  Sum Up, Sum Down is the final mode and takes place with the satellite dishes.  This time numbers appear beneath each of the three dishes. You have to choose the right combination of numbers that add up to the target number on the spaceship.

Here you find groups that match the number on the ship.

To be honest, this was not my first time playing Sesame Street 1-2-3.  My kids are now 9 and 4 years old and I definitely played this with my 9-year-old when she was younger.  My 4-year-old is the right age for it, and we might well try it out some time, but I know he’d rather play TMNT 3 or Jackal (or Roblox) instead of Sesame Street 1-2-3.  This is a common game that is still pretty cheap.

There really isn’t much to say about my playthrough of this game.  I finished it up in about 20-30 minutes and I even streamed it on Twitch to impress my friends.  I made one or two small menuing mistakes, so this wasn’t even a perfect run, much to my own personal dismay.  I do want to point out a few miscellaneous aspects of this game.  The first is that in Ernie’s Magic Shapes, a few of the games exit to the menu after a few puzzles, while others keep going on until you exit manually.  Looks like an oversight to me as Astro Grover always kicks back to the menu when you complete a mode.  Another thing is that you can’t switch between Ernie’s Magic Shapes and Astro Grover once you’ve started one of them.  You have to physically reset the console to switch games.  Lastly, this game is also part of a compilation cart with Sesame Street A-B-C.  That game also has two games built-in, so Sesame Street A-B-C/1-2-3 contains four educational games for kids, which is an awesome value!  Personally, I don’t go back to replay all the games on compilation carts, so I’ll get to mark off two carts whenever I do Sesame Street A-B-C in the future.

I think Sesame Street 1-2-3 is an educational game done well.  It has simple objectives with gentle difficulty levels, wrapped up with familiar characters.  It looks nice, with some impressive graphical effects like the circling stars of Ernie’s Magic Shapes and the satellite beams in Astro Grover.  The music is great in it, very pleasant to listen to.  I think it’s neat to know that the Pickford Brothers got their start here on console development.  They did a great job on this and would go on to do greater things later on.  Considering that I also got to play this game with my kids, I’m glad I have this one on the shelf.

#178 – Sesame Street 1-2-3
(Ernie’s Magic Shapes)

#178 – Sesame Street 1-2-3
(Astro Grover)

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