Developer: Double Fine Studios
# of Players: 1 – 6
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
Sure, you can simply stick your tongue out, turn your nose up, cross those arms and pout about even going NEAR a game as geared for kids as Double Fine Happy Action Theater and at first glance, you’d almost be justified. Then again, you’d look exactly like a stubborn child who won’t eat their vegetables instead of an adult who needs to kick back and have a blast once in a while. Yes, the game is super family friendly, non-violent (unless you consider kicking down fake buildings “violent”) and “shorter” than it should be. On the other hand, it’s not a traditional “game” at all, but a series of 18 activities that will have you doing all sorts of wacky physical movements in front of your TV.
The chances that you’ll be grinning from ear to ear during all this are quite high (even if you don’t have any kids around), thanks to the complete sense of freedom on display in the assortment of mini-games.There’s no structure or story to follow in order to enjoy Happy Action Theater’s activities. Just turn on your system, fire up the XBLA download and jump in whenever you feel like it. What works straightaway is the pull of whatever activity appears on screen. You may see a fiery pool of lava appear that you can splash around in and kick up fireballs to play with or you can end up with your living room looking like an aquarium complete with tropical fish doing their thing. Nearly all of the activities involve big or small motions of some sort, so stomping around a black & white cityscape as a giant monster or punching a screen full of balloons about can work up quite a sweat if you really get into it.
As fun and funky as things get with all that dancing, waving and stomping action, it’s when the software takes off and does its own thing (using the Kinect camera to snap still images of anyone in front of the screen) that things really get wild. A dance party becomes a total laugh riot, and even not moving at all lends itself to some fun times. Some faulty image capturing makes one otherwise cool 3D modeling portion a bit weird if your digital doppelganger is missing part of an arm or leg. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Double FIne created HAT with all of the Kinect’s great and not so great points in mind. The kids won’t care a whit and any adult in a cheery mood will be too busy playing with pigeons or watching themselves wiggle about on screen to gripe about anything.
What’s also great about the presentation is how minimalist it is. You don’t need to spend twenty minutes recalibrating for each player or fiddling with menus and such. The visual style is varied and always impressively weird enough to make you think you’ve taken something funny before you turned your 360 on. While I’m sure HAT would make a great game for drunken revelers at your next adult party, it’s pretty clear the a lot of the fine folks at Double Fine who made this gem either have their own kids or know people who have them. The overall sense of FUN rings true and holds those notes for as long as you have the game turned on, and while it’s a short ride, it’s one you’ll be going back to whenever you need a smile break.
For a mere 800 Microsoft Points (or $10 in actual money), it’s a must-buy deal even if you don’t think you’d go anywhere near it. Happy Action Theater laughs at your attempts to ignore it. Trust me, all you need to do is turn it on and do nothing in front of your TV but stand there if you want to (nose upturned with your arms crossed if you must). At some point you’ll break into a smile, then a laugh and there goes that hour or so you were planning to spend being productive. Granted, the game will still be a hard sell to those stubborn shooter fans out there who still don’t own a Kinect. On the other hand, if you own a Kinect and need something that’s bound to get people who normally wouldn’t go near a video game up and giggling, well, here you go.
This is probably the shortest review I’ve written in a while, but that’s because there’s really nothing bad to say about Happy Action Theater other than I wish it had more content. Still, there’s enough fun and laughs here that you’ll go back for more (and probably more often than you’d admit in public). Which is exactly where Microsoft and Double Fine want you…