Double Fine Happy Action Theater Review
Game: Double Fine Happy Action Theater
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade Only
Gaming has had its fair share of diverse fans. From spotty teenagers, to drunken 30 something year old men, to the fitness conscious and beyond. But, one age group that has been neglected throughout the medium’s life, is kids. Other than some 2D side scrollers, it’s difficult for a lot of young children to grasp the hobby we love.
That’s where Double Fine comes in.
In the lead up to last year’s Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster, Tim Schafer, Double Fine’s director, said that the rationale behind making the game was to develop something that young kids could play, like his daughter, and also something that had no specific entry level. A game that ANYONE could play.
Happy Action Theater is that and more. At its core, to those that wish to be called, “hardcore gamers” at least, it is a mini game collection. You can select how to play the game when you are presented with a theatre stage. There are 18 stage hands on the aforementioned stage that represent each activity and a director is sitting in front of his actors. By selecting one of the people on stage, you can play one specific mini game for as long as your heart desires, or if you choose the director, it takes you through all of the games in a random order with timed playthroughs of the games. Each mini game will last for a certain time (about a minute or two) in this party-style mode. There are no leaderboards, no deathmatch and no campaign, nothing of the sort. It is devoid of competitive nature in any way shape or form. More importantly though, to kids, it is a playground. A playground full of magical places like an Amazonian jungle, a disco with all your Double Fine friends and a big bowl of jelly!
Once you start the game, you’re playing. There’s no tutorial or over elaborate cutscene to “immerse” the player, simply because there doesn’t need to be. From the minute it boots up, you find yourself on telly trying to burst some on-screen balloons. There is no particular way to win any of the games per se, for the most part, the game decides for itself when you’re done. “You’ve probably had enough of that now, bring on the next activity”. The mini games are timed superbly. They’re short, concise and to the point. Which is why kids love this, it requires the attention span of a pencil. Some games could’ve been cut a little shorter, or have even been taken out altogether, but the majority will have you smiling from ear to ear.
And that’s exactly what Happy Action Theater brings to those who play it – joy. I had a permanent Cheshire Cat style grin plastered on my face like a mad man while playing this. Certain mini games like the King Kong inspired black and white game, where you have to knock down buildings and swat away airplanes will transform you into a slow moving, methodical, destruction obsessed ape! The clever thing is, the game never tells you what to do, it never gives you any on screen prompts to act a certain way. It just places the player into situations, like being engulfed in lava, where you’ll find yourself automatically crumbling to your demise; complete with animated facial expressions.
Clearly this isn’t marketed at people like me, or probably those even reading this review. It is marketed to an age group that thinks Dora the Explorer and Fireman Sam are the bee’s knees. So, when I saw the look on my nephew’s face while playing this, it brought joy to my stone-gamer heart. We get so bogged down sometimes by issues that can be trivial in some games; loose shooting mechanics, wonky cameras, or plot-holes. Sometimes, we’re missing the point of our hobby; it’s meant to be fun. Kinect, for something that is meant to be so free, can be restrictive too. “Stand here, you’re out of focus, THE SENSOR CAN’T SEE YOU”. But, there are no rules or regulations with Happy Action Theater. As long as you’re in shot, you’re in the game. My 5 year old nephew was elated to be on television, waving his arms around whilst resembling an ice statuette, or creating weird and wonderful images in the stage that creates a trippy kaleidoscope on screen. The game supports up to six people at any time, with drop-in and drop-out features. There are a few mini games that loosely appear like a traditional videogame, putting you into a Space Invaders style shoot-em-up with a score at the top of the screen. But, the beauty is that the score means absolutely nothing. This is also true of the brick breaking simulator in the game.
VERDICT: While some of the mini games tend to get boring fast, there’s one where pigeons land on top of you – that’s it – and some of the activity inclusions are questionable altogether, namely the game where tree branches appear around you with flowers on the ground, but at the end of most of the activities, my nephew yelled, “Awww, it’s over already”. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters when it comes to Happy Action Theater.