Happy Action Theater
Happy Action Theater is Double Fine’s latest Xbox Live Arcade game. It’s the first Kinect XBLA game they’re released, but not the first Kinect game they’ve written as they were also responsible for the “Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster” Kinect retail game. Happy Action theater isn’t really a game though so much as a collection of augmented reality mini-games that use the Kinect camera in some interesting ways. The game grew out of Double Fine’s desire to have some Kinect fun with their kids according to this interview: Gamasutra with Double Fine.
There’s no high scores, there’s no leader-boards, there’s no direct competition, each of the 18 mini-games is really just a fun little exercise for up to six players to enjoy at once. Yes, you can play six player games which is unusual for a Kinect game. Apparently Happy Action uses an alternative mode of the Kinect camera that really just uses your silhouette and the depth information to track you. It works surprisingly well as most of the mini-games don’t really require a massive amount of accuracy and are still great fun. Happy Action is also incredibly forgiving compared to many other Kinect Games and will never nag you about ‘moving back, moving left’ etc. Some mini-games also seem to have a funny Easter egg if all the players move out of the camera’s view.
We have a couple of young boys under 10 and they’ll regularly fire up Happy Action and play it for up to an hour without getting bored. You can play each mode separately for as long as you like, but by default the game starts in a rolling demo where you cycle through each mode, playing each one for a couple of minutes. I won’t list all 18 mini-games here as you can see most of them in the demo video on Xbox Live, but will describe a couple of highlights (names are my own) :
Lava: In this mode you’ll see your living room slowly flood with burning lava which you can splash around in. Dipping your hands into the lava sets them on fire and you can fling fireballs around at each other for some amusing effects. There’s also friendly little flames that you can get to dance around on your hands and shoulders.
Monsters Attack: Turns your living room into a tiny black and white city of regenerating buildings that you can destroy by rampaging through them while helicopters and jets ineffectually try to shoot you. This is one of our favourites and frankly I’d love to see expanded into an entire Kinect game, sort of a HD Kinect Rampage because it would be fantastic.
Pigeon Park: Your living room is filled with hungry pigeons that fly around and roost on your body. Waving your hands around scatters bird food around which attracts more pigeons. You can turn yourself into a pigeon covered statue, or chase the pigeons away, even popping them into clouds of feathers if you’re forceful enough.
My wife is a paediatric occupational therapist and wanted to add to this review: “The game provides an excellent selection of interactive and action packed opportunities where children can experience success with a range of motor and cognitive challenges, while also having loads of fun. As a parent, I also appreciate the fact that ‘Happy Action Theater’ is cooperative, which means that our boys can authentically play together without the distraction of ‘winning’ or ‘losing’. This means less fights, and lots more teamwork and laughter”.
If you’re interested the trial is definitely worth downloading. It’s less than half a gig and gives you a good demo of several of the 18 modes, including the Lava game, which is good fun just by itself. At 800 MSP for the full game, Happy Action Theater is great value if you’ve got kids, or if you’re looking for a good party game for a bunch of drunken adults. Also given Double Fine’s previous XBLA releases I’d expect one DLC pack to become available for this game in the future and we’ll definitely be picking it up when it does.