XBLA Review: Double Fine Happy Action Theater



Calling Double Fine Happy Action Theater a game would be stretching the truth by more than a hair. Less an actual game and more an augmented reality playset, Happy Action Theater uses the Kinect sensor to display a live stream of you and your room onto the screen, then a series of activities will project virtual objects on top, transforming your living room into an imaginative land of daft fun.

Want to see lava fill your room, leaving you hopping onto the sofa to avoid burning your legs off, or have a snow storm hit your house so you can toss virtual snowballs at your family? Ever wanted birds to flock to you and perch all over your shoulders and head without the pesky poop clean-up afterwards? Or maybe you’ve wondered what it’d be like to be encased in a giant bowl of jelly? Double Fine Happy Action Theater gives you the chance to do all that and more, dragging in up to five of your friends and family to join the fun.
.
.

(Click image to enlarge)

.
.
There’s some genuinely inventive, imaginative use of the Kinect hardware amongst the selection of activities. The 5x photo tool takes a 5-exposure photo with a delay in between, so you can strike a pose, have your photo taken, then effectively jump around in the photograph and reposition yourself before the camera snaps another image of you to add on top. The end result is as crazy and creative as your imagination allows: You can have five clones of you all beating each other up, hugging each other, stacked and hidden behind you to give the illusion of Vishnu arms, and so on. It’s the most replayable and inventive tool in the mix, let down only by the unfortunate lack of ability to save your crazy pictures.

Others offer more basic, but visually engaging fun, especially for kids. One tracks the movements of your hands and straps virtual sparkler fireworks to them, allowing your to spray sparks from your fingers. One traps your image inside a giant bowl of jelly, your movements causing it to wobble and wiggle. One makes flowers bloom around your room until it’s an overgrown jungle. Another drops you underwater to play with fish, but getting caught by a hook sees you yanked out of the screen. A couple of others make you the controller in Breakout and Space Invaders clones as you dash along the bottom of the screen to destroy targets. It’s fantastic fun that caters to the childlike whims of actual kids and drunken adults goofing around after a night out.
.
.

(Click image to enlarge)

.
.
Of course, after a while, the simplistic, hit-and-miss nature of the activities start to make replay value a bit questionable. Some activities, like the photo snap game, reward creativity more than others and invite more replay. But outside of the human Breakout activity and such, none of the other choices keep a score or offer any depth, progression or variety. The pigeon, flower and jelly activities become pretty dull after a few minutes, and many of the choice on offer are one-trick ponies that even youngsters will likely skip when they start up the game again.

The game mostly does a great job at integrating your movements into the screen and mapping the virtual chaos to your room accurately, but the few technical issues that pop up occasionally seem less a fault of Double Fine and more the limitations and quirks of the Kinect Sensor itself. Trying out the pigeon activity in my bedroom, which is in the process of being repainted, resulted in pigeons perching in mid-air, standing on a light paint smudge on the wall and even having trouble distinguishing shadows from solid objects in a well-lit room.
.
.

(Click image to enlarge)

.
.
But for a kid-orientated Kinect showcase, it’s a success despite the few dud activities in the mix. The interface is beautifully simple, free from the awkward set-up and demanding precision motion that most games on the platform demand, it’s wonderfully simple for gamers of all ages and inclinations to fire up the game, jump in and have some visually creative fun at their own speed. The game automatically queues up a playlist of activities, but it’s incredibly easy to single out your favourites and play them again and again.

If you’ve just picked one up a Kinect and are still smitten with the futuristic joys of waving your hands around Minority Report style to control your console or barking orders at it like a gleefully sadistic drill sergeant, then Happy Action Theater is pretty much essential. It feels like the best pack-in product that Microsoft forgot to make, cramming just as much free-form inventive family fun as Kinect Adventures, but with the benefit of Double Fine’s charm.

It won’t satisfy those looking for a proper game that boasts endless depth and longevity, and a few technical hiccups and lesser activities dampen the fires of enjoyment a little, but as an inventive display of the all-ages entertainment and imaginative creativity that the Kinect is capable of, it’s fantastic fun for adults and kids alike.

Rating:





Double Fine Happy Action Theater is available to buy now exclusively on Xbox Live Marketplace for Xbox Kinect.