Every once in a while, I run into technology that just seems like magic, like the first time I saw a 3D printer, the first time I saw e-Ink, or the first demo of the Photoshop Bandaid tool. Microsoft Studios’ Double Fine Happy Action Theater is another such magical moment. With a description that begins, “Are you disappointed at how little magic you are able to shoot from your fingers…” that clearly was the intent.
Double Fine Happy Action Theater is an 800 point (or about $10 for those of us who prefer to think in real dollar amounts) download for the Xbox 360 with Kinect (I suggest the Star Wars bundle if you don’t already have one.)
Rather than being a true game, it’s really a series of augmented reality activities. However you classify it, it’s still all magic, all the time. Kids of all ages and abilities will enjoy the fun while getting a secret workout.
The Happy Action Theater in Action
The premise is pretty simple. Happy Action Theater is a series of 18 different mini scenes, all set in your living room. The curtains open, and you’ve got a few minutes with each activity. Is it going to flood your living room with lava, or are you going to have a snowball fight? Maybe you’ll grow flowers, shoot off fireworks, play with balloons, or feed pigeons. All activities are aware of objects like tables and bookshelves behind you. The pigeons land on the table. The balloons bounce off your head.
Each mini activity goes on for a few minutes and then the curtains close to get ready for the next game.
A Game Without an Object
There’s no winning or losing Double Fine Happy Action Theater. The activities are simply fun things to explore. Is there a point to being trapped in a giant bowl of Jello? No, but it sure is fun to wiggle around.
Now, just because there’s no winning or losing, doesn’t mean there aren’t new things to explore or achievements to unlock. That means there’s always a new reason to come back. Meanwhile, my ten year old doesn’t need to get mad at my seven year old for ruining her dance score, and the two of them can destroy buildings like Godzilla without destroying the house. Meanwhile, us old folks will get a kick out of retro style games where you need to walk to move the controller.
Not only does Double Fine Happy Action Theater push boundaries with a game with no objective and no instructions, they also do an amazing job with the Kinect technology. I can’t say that it’s a totally artifact free experience, but the handling of foreground and background and the sensing of objects really is pretty amazing, and it makes the game as fun to watch as it is to play.
It’s more than worth $10.