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Double Fine Happy Action Theater Review

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On 02/01/2012 at 11:56 PM by Nick DiMola

I got to lay waste to a city, break dance, take risqué pictures with myself, and star in my own '70s style dance video.

A perfect game for young kids not capable of using a controller or adults looking to have a bit of lighthearted fun in a party setting.

I'll be honest; Double Fine Happy Action Theater had me laughing out loud on a fairly frequent basis. As I made my way through the game's default Director Mode, I experienced 18 mini-game toys that were all completely unique in their construction. Because you can't win or lose and the game gives you no directions on how to play, each mini-game is all about experimentation and just having fun. With such a low barrier of entry and gameplay that accommodates up to six simultaneous players, it's almost impossible not to have a blast with Happy Action Theater.

The start of Happy Action Theater is one of the most striking sections of the game as it sets the stage for what's to come. After the opening credits, the screen will flicker on, displaying a live video shot of your gaming space from the view of the Kinect. Balloons come raining down, engulfing your digital room and obscuring all of the players in the room. No menu, no instructions, just balloons everywhere.

At first, I thought the game was just in the process of loading up the first level. With all the balloons on the screen, I couldn't help but wave my arms around to see if anything would happen. Nothing did, so I continued to wait for the game to start. Growing tired of what seemed to be the longest game loading period ever, I backed up to take a seat on my couch. Surprisingly enough, balloons shot up into the air.

"Would you look at that – the game recognizes your position in 3D space," I exclaimed. Most Kinect experiences don't do this, so I was a bit surprised. Of course, now knowing that I could actually interact with the numerous balloons - and in 3D space - I couldn't help but begin diving around my living room like a child, swatting balloons in every direction.

Before long, the curtain drew and another scene was set up. It was at this point I realized I had already begun playing the game. Going with the flow, I paid close attention to what was happening now in my virtual living room. Clearly, buildings were being erected all over the floor and on the furniture. Planes began darting across the screen overhead – and then the light bulb in my head clicked – "I'm King Kong!" Once again, I found myself trotting around the living room smashing buildings with my hands and feet, while swatting planes out of the air. As I destroyed the initial smaller planes, progressively larger ones started coming out before a final zeppelin flew overhead. It was an amazing bout of discovery that was refreshing and fun to stumble across, something that rarely happens in many modern games.

Nuances like this are built into many of the mini-games. Toss in some more players and there are other options depending on the game you're in. Even better, all of the other players can hop into the game with no lag time - they're immediately depicted on the screen and can begin to interact with the virtual world. Even my dog was represented as he trotted across the snow covered ground during one of the mini-games.

Though many of the games are more like interactive toys, there are a few true games. There's a Breakout clone, a Space Invaders-like game, and a game in which you can hurl energy orbs at foes on a 2D plane. All three games work well and are fun to play, despite there being no real objective to any of them.

One of my favorite games provided the ability to capture an image 5 times, with each snapshot compounding together to form an ultimate final picture. Because, once again, the Kinect is aware of 3D space, the camera can detect in subsequent shots if you are in front of or behind images in the last picture you took. I'll leave it up to your imagination, but some really funny and interesting pictures can be produced with this mini-game.

While most of the mini-games are good fun, a few fall short. The balloon mini-game was a great way to ease you into the experience, but beyond that, it provides very little value. Both the snow and lava mini-games were a bit boring as well. Thankfully, Happy Action Theater allows you to hop into each game individually, so in a party setting you can pick and choose which games you want to play.

Because it's a game all about experimentation, I'll refrain from spoiling any of the other mini-games; however, it's important to know that there's something to discover in each and every one. Whether you're getting it to play with your kids or for drunken parties with friends, there's plenty of fun to be had with Double Fine Happy Action Theater.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Angelo Grant Staff Writer

02/02/2012 at 11:24 AM

I might have to get one of these after all.  I can see this being a good time with the rest of the fam.

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