Happy Action Theater is one of those games that falls into a very undefined genre. In fact, some people might not call Happy Action Theater a game at all. This latest Kinect Title by Double Fine doesn’t have an objective, it doesn’t have ending conditions, you don’t have to do anything, you can’t lose and it doesn’t even have a story! So what kind of game is Happy Action Theater then? And how does it provide for entertainment? To answer those questions I got in a couple of mates and dove into the game to find out!
18 Ways to make your own fun
Happy Action Theater does not have any of the traditional ‘game’ elements, instead, it provides players with 18 different gadgets to make up your own fun! Each of the gadgets provides you with some basic toys which you can use to fool around and generally just be plain silly. Some of the gadgets use augmented reality, like filling the room with flowers/balloons/lava/snow/water/buildings and allowing the player to interact with that. This will allow you for example to throw snow balls at each other, cast fireballs, play Godzilla or chase around fish. Other gadgets mimic classic games and give them a Kinect twist: Arkanoid and Space Invaders have never been this (physically) intense! The main point here is that Happy Action Theater provides you with ‘toys’ or ‘building blocks’ and you’ll get to use them in your own way to create fun.
Adults turn to kids
Now I know that this game is almost completely aimed at children. It’s extremely accessible, has all the right things that kids love and allows children to use their imagination and create their own games. Still, me and my friends (and we are all adults) had an absolute blast with this. It might be because (and this is slightly on a more 21+ note) that we all grabbed a couple of beers and just got very silly, but some of the gadgets are genuinely fun for anyone! Our personal favorite was the gadget that takes five photos with a slight delay between them, but after each photo it keeps the players saved in the picture. This allows you to create hilarious scenes of ridiculously silly things, and I have not laughed as hard as with that gadget in a long time.
Another great example of a fun one is an augmented reality gadget where the scene gets filled up by pigeons. As a player you get the ability to throw food on the floor, which attracts them and sometimes makes them turn into a frenzy and attack a player. Playing this gadget turned out into a mad fight where each of my friends was trying to cover up the other player in food as soon as possible. It seems so simple and maybe a bit lame, but it was actually a lot of fun!
Happy Action Theater might seem like a very simple game at first, it does have 18 different gadgets, but each of them doesn’t really have that much content. If you look a bit closer (and know what other games did with Kinect) you’ll find out that Happy Action Theater is actually a very technologically advanced game! If not, the most advanced of anything that is out today. Did you know that you can play this game with up to six people at the same time? Most Kinect games can only be played by two because of Microsoft’s skeletal tracking system restrictions. Somehow Double Fine did something with Kinect and made it possible for it to track six people at the same time and allow each of them to perform gesture based moves. There is not a single other game where this is possible.
And it doesn’t end there, Happy Action Theater has some genius system that allows player to be removed from an augmented reality scene. The first time I saw this was when I shot a fireball at Clemens (another editor of 123Kinect), saw him turn to dust and be evaporated from the scene. This sounds unimpressive but think about it…how does the game know what is behind the removed player??? I mean, he is removed from the scene and the scene is a real-time feed of my actual living room. That’s some crazy technology and Double Fine really did some impressive work here!
Me and my friends played the game for a good two hours, but found ourselves quickly running out of gadgets. There are quite a few gadgets in total but not all gadget are actually fun, some are a little bit too basic and didn’t offer us much to create any fun. The gadgets that are fun will only be for a little bit and don’t offer much in term of replayability. But then again, kids might have a totally different experience with this because they tend to like simple things being repeated all the time (Teletubbies anyone?). So for people like me this provides for a one time blast of fun during a party, but I won’t be playing this with the same people again. Still, Happy Action Theater is an arcade game and with its low price justifies this little lack of content, I just wish there was a bit more.
Happy Action Theater is a fun collection of gadgets that shows technical superiority with the Kinect platform. The game offers little value when played alone, but has proven to be a silly blast when played with a group of people. The game will offer the most entertainment and replayability for kids, but even me and my friends had a fun time play testing this title. If you’d like to have a game to pop on while having a party, have little kids or like to see what Kinect is capable then definitely get this game. However, if you are planning to play this by yourself or are looking for a ton of content than this title is better left alone. Happy Action Theater sure shows that Kinect is just in its infancy period and that games without clear game mechanics can still be a lot of fun! A big applause to Double Fine Productions!
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Happy Action Theater
Scoring policy: What do these game review scores actually mean?