Happy happy happy!
Double Fine show other Kinect Developers how it’s done. Again.
Game: Happy Action Theatre
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Price: 800 Microsoft Points/£7.99/$9.99
Happy Action Theatre (HAT) isn’t a game in the conventional sense, there are no scores to beat for the most part, no goals to achieve and no storyline to follow. However, it is a demonstration of the power of Kinect, taking a light hearted spin on augmented reality and transforming your living room into a virtual playground in the process.
Perhaps the biggest point to note is that up to six players are supported on screen at once, a Kinect first. Obviously you’ll need a large room to fit everyone in, but it’s great that it’s there, especially considering that there are no fiddly sign in or user recognition periods. To get involved you just need to walk into the play space and start interacting with it. The removal of that barrier is simple but effective, especially for younger players.
Featuring a total of 18 activities, on the surface there are endless possiblities. The reality, however, is that a fair few of those won’t ever get a second look. That said, even in some of the less interesting parts of the game, the tech at work is still impressive. One activity in particular sees you throwing seeds around which grow into flowers, and what’s interesting is where they grow. HAT gives you a constant mirror of the area you’re playing in and accounts for all objects within it, so as I was scattering seeds on my sofa, they would take root there rather than falling past it. Over time the area moves from being a modest garden to a thriving jungle as more and more seeds flower and vines begin to grow down from the ceiling. It was good, but I’ve done it now. There isn’t anything to make me go back to it, other than to show someone who hasn’t seen it.
From a presentation point of view everything is exactly as cheerful and charming as you’d expect from Double Fine. The sound effects are excellent and completely faithful to the style of the activity they’re in. Highlights include a black and white city landscape which invites you to smash buildings as they pop up beneath you whilst fighting off waves of planes doing their best to take you down, and a game that puts you on a circling platform with the ability to destroy various enemies that populate the screen by slinging shots at them from your arms. Another mode that stood out was one that populates the area with pigeons. It sounds completely bonkers and isn’t altogether that interesting, but demonsrates how well the game has been designed to work with depth. The interaction comes in the form of shooing them off your furniture (and yourself), but the birds navigate the 3D space properly making you frequently miss until you adjust your position.
The rest of the game is mostly made up of activities with only mild interaction like a kaleidoscope that changes with your movement and a 70’s style dance mode which speeds up and slows down as you start/stop moving. That’s not to say that they aren’t worth a look, but they are likely to be visited only once.
There are some truely wonderful ideas at work here and I genuinely hope we see some of the better ones expanded on in the future. I do feel that perhaps 18 individuals activites is a bit much and as a package Happy Action Theatre would have benefitted from “gamifying” some of them, expanding them into more fulfilling experiences. That said, this is still an excellent game and by far the best way to show Kinect off to someone who hasn’t seen it before.