Double Fine Happy Action Theater is not a game. Well, at least it's not one in the traditional sense. It's more like a digital toy. You know, those things that kids used to play with before Nintendo became a household word. There is no goal here, no objective, and no real instructions. Instead, Happy Action Theater drops you into an augmented reality sandbox and says, "Have fun!"
The genesis of Happy Action Theater came about when Double Fine owner and game developer Tim Schafer decided that he wanted to make a Kinect game for his daughter. He noted that Kinect appealed to the under-five set, but the specific maneuvers required were sometimes a bit much. As a result, he set about to create a Kinect-focused experience that allowed multiple players (Happy Action Theater supports up to six) in a freeform environment. It's safe to say that Schafer and company have succeeded.
As soon as you start Happy Action Theater, it dumps you into the first of 18 different environments. The initial space is simply a room filled with balloons. What to do with them? Pop them, of course. You can kick the balloons with your feet or move them with your hands. Pop them to reveal a surprise, which you can then collect simply by grabbing it.
In its default setting, Happy Action Theater cycles between the different environments roughly every two to three minutes. It's an excellent way to experience what it has to offer, as well as a good setting to keep on during parties.
Because Happy Action Theater does not require the accuracy of full skeletal tracking (using the Kinect's ability to recognize blobs instead), it can support up to six players at once. In fact, you even get an achievement for that. Players can walk in or walk out at any time. No complicated sign-in is required.
If you prefer to play specific environments, Happy Action Theater allows you to pick up a controller and swap between them. You can choose to pause the auto cycle mode, staying on the current environment for as long as you like, swap between them all in order, or drop out to a menu of sorts to jump straight to a specific environment.
Your choices include:
- 5X Photo — A super camera takes a five-exposure shot, allowing you to move around between exposures. Give yourself four arms or pretend you have a twin.
- '70s Star — Stars, rainbows and you. Enough said.
- Balloons — Your room is filled with balloons of all colors. Pop to your heart's content.
- Bollywood Kaleidoscope — Dance to Bollywood-style music as the screen moves in a kaleidoscope pattern. This one will probably be appealing to those with an "enhanced" state of consciousness.
- Breakout — It's old-school Breakout, but now, you're the bumper on the bottom of the screen.
- City Monster — It's a black-and-white film with a big city under attack by a monster: you! Stomp around, destroy buildings and smack planes out of the air.
- Disco Inferno — Dance to the beat with a bunch of 2-D friends. You might see some characters from other Double Fine games.
- Dodgeball Monsters — Your room fills up with monsters that look like dodgeballs. Smack them around.
- Double Fine Shooter — It's an old-school shooter (think Galaga) with you as the ship. Shoot the bugs in front of famous landmarks, including the Double Fine office building.
- Fireworks — You've got a sparkler in each hand and plenty of fireworks to light. It's like the Fourth of July every night.
- Forest — It's a storybook forest with pigeons. You can feed them, but sadly, you cannot shoot them.
- Jell-O Mold — You're stuck inside a plate of Jell-O and can't get out.
- Lava — Your room fills with red hot lava. There's an Achievement if you use the lava to re-create the ending of "Terminator 2."
- Lounge Lizard — Mellow music and a rainbow of colors. Should appeal to the same set as the kaleidoscope.
- Rainforest — Rain falls, flowers bloom, vines appear and then the sun comes out.
- Space Gargoyles — Hop on a floating platform and shoot multicolored gargoyles … in space!
- Underwater — Hold your breath; you're at the bottom of the ocean. If you grab the hook, you'll be pulled right out of the scene.
- Winter Wonderland — It's suddenly cold and snowing. Time for a snowball fight.
What makes Happy Action Theater so great is the simplicity of it all. Whether you're two years old or a proud grandparent, the activities will get you engaged and interacting with the virtual environment around you. Because there are no rules or fancy moves to master, the learning curve is nonexistent. Instead, play with Happy Action Theater follows an emergent path where the players decide what they're going to do.
With that said, there are two areas where Happy Action Theater could have done better. The first is with loading times. When it is cycling through environments on its own, loading times are minimal, but switching between the menu and a specific environment takes a noticeably long time. The second complaint is the big one, though, and that is the fact that Happy Action Theater does NOT let you save photos!
There are multiple points at which it will take your photo and display it on the screen, but there is no ability to save those for viewing later. Having the ability to save to the Xbox 360's hard drive or to export to a Web site like Kinect Sports would have been awesome (and made for some nice blackmail material).
In the end, the only reason to not pick up Happy Action Theater is if you absolutely hate having fun. It's a brilliant little digital toy that will suck up a surprising amount of time. At 800 MSP ($10 USD), it's not going to break the bank, and if you happen to be a parent with little kids, it may be the best investment you make this year.
More articles about Double Fine Happy Action Theater