Happy Action Theater|
Hot on the heels of their fantastic Kinect title Sesame Street: One Upon A Monster, and a string of remarkable Xbox Live Arcade titles including Iron Brigade (formerly Trenched), Stacking, and Costume Quest – the folks at Tim Schafer’s acclaimed Double Fine Productions have seen fit to deliver the most amazing example of Xbox Kinect implementation thus far in Double Fine Happy Action Theater. While less of an actual game, and more of a demonstration of the Double Fine’s proficiency at utilizing the full potential of the Kinect’s technology, Double Fine Happy Action Theater is a psychedelic dream that will leave the whole family with a grin on their faces.
Double Fine Happy Action Theater has no storyline, no script, and no characters – there is only the gamer, who is shown in the opening cinematic as sitting front row center the – you guessed it – Happy Action Theater, for a showing of a film, or series of films. What commences is a series of a dozen or so 5 – 10 minute vignettes in which the gamer is the star in movie scenes ranging from monsters attacking cities (think Godzilla), characters wading through molten lava (Terminator), disco dance offs (Saturday Night Fever), and more.
While all of this may sound less than impressive on paper, the actual execution is beyond amazing. Sloshing through the waist-deep lava results in realistic splashes and waves as the molten rock ours across couches and onto the living room floor – all virtually of course, as captured by the Kinect camera and projected onto the television screen. The attention to detail astounding, as is the trademark Double Fine humor – at one point my son decided to see what would happen if he fell to the floor in the lava, and at the precise moment it displayed his submersion we were awarded with an “I Know Now Why You Cry” achievement in a nod to the classic film Terminator 2.
As mentioned Double Fine Happy Action Theater is not just about rivers of lava; there are rooms full of balloons to be kicked, fireworks shows to be set off, Independence Day sparkler art, a human version of Space Invaders, a psychedelic silhouette light show, and even a disco dance off. None of these are without their own style and sense of individuality – the “Monsters Attack” segment looks like an old black and white film from the 1950’s, and the disco dance off features paper-thin Parappa the Rapper inspired characters – including the gamer.
Double Fine Happy Action Theater makes is clear that the folks at Double Fine Productions are fantastically gifted when it comes to coding for the Kinect; never does it feel like a movement has been missed or misinterpreted by the game, and the game does a fantastic job differentiating between overlapping gamers and displaying the resulting actions separately onscreen.
If I had to list a few gripes about Happy Action Theater, the first and foremost would be the length of the game (the entire experience can be completed in well under an hour) and the lack of depth or purpose. This is a common issue with “tech demo” titles like Double Fine Happy Action Theater, the PlayStation family’s EyeToy Play, even Kinect Adventures. Most of these titles are worth a half an hour of drooling the first time around, but once the gamer has seen all that the game has to offer they usually are relegated to a life of collecting dust in the display case, to be pulled out to impress company every now and then. Nintendo’s Wii Sports is one of the few titles to break out of the “tech demo” mold, but even that titles has its weaknesses.
Double Fine Happy Action Theater’s brevity makes it a bit difficult to justify the $10 (800 MS) price tag – not that the obvious hard work involved in developing technology on this magnitude is not worth it – but gamers will be hard pressed to see value in a 30-minute title when Kinect Labs offers similar (granted, nowhere near as good – but similar nonetheless) experiences for free. In fact, within the new “App Economy” on the Android and iOS devices, it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify any casual title with a price tag of more than a buck or two. But I don’t want to detract from what is here – Double Fine is hands-down the most innovative development studio in gaming, and Double Fine Happy Action Theater is a truly fantastic example of what can be achieved when you combine an amazing group of people with an amazing piece of technology.
I highly suggest that all Kinect owners at least give the demo a try – you will not be let down. And while it might be difficult to justify the $10 price tag, the experience is well worth it. Don’t think of it as one $10 experience, but rather as ten $1 experiences, and it all makes sense.