STAFF REVIEW of Double Fine Happy Action Theater (Xbox 360 Arcade)

Friday, February 3, 2012.
by Adam Dileva

Double Fine Happy Action Theater Box art Double Fine is a very unique game development studio. Headed by Tim Schafer, they tend to make some of the most unique and creative games that seems to always find a way into my heart. Look at their history; Costume Quest, Stacking (which was absolutely brilliant), Once Upon a Monster, Brutal Legend, and of course the title that made me and many others fall in love with them, Psychonauts (where is my sequel!?). It?s like Tim has this magic recipe for creating unique and entertaining games that I enjoy playing, even if it?s geared towards children.

So now we have Double Fine Happy Action Theater (DFHAT for short) that is for Kinect owners and released on the Xbox Live Arcade. Now, how does one categorize a game? Getting a high score, beating levels, defeating bosses? DFHAT doesn?t do any of this, and I found myself wondering if I would categorize it under the ?game? category. The reason for this is that DFHAT is comprised of 18 ?mini games? that you cannot win nor lose in. As you start playing, you?ll see yourself in your living room, and each event will transform what it sees in various ways. It feels more like an Augmented Reality style of game than your traditional style, and because there?s no set objective, you?re just there to interact however you wish and to simply have fun. Because you?re not required to do anything, there?s not even a tutorial of how to ?play?. This isn?t a bad thing, as it opens up your creativity and curiosity to see what?s possible or not.

So what are these ?events? that spark up imagination? My favorite is the lava stage. This fills your living room with lava and will actually conform around your furniture. Do you jump into the lava and splash around, or recreate the ending of T2 for a laugh? One will place you in black and white movie crushing buildings and swapping planes as if you were Godzilla himself. A full flock of pigeons might come to roost in your living room; do you swap them away, feed them bread crumbs, or let them perch on you and the furniture? Another will have your room filling up with snow, where you can pick it up and throw snowballs at the TV (for an achievement!) or try and dust off the furniture to prevent it from piling too high.

Those are just a few of the ?events? that allow you to interact in any way you desire. There?s no main goal, so feel free to open up your creativity. There are other stages that are more of the goofy side like having a 2D cutout of you dancing in a club that resembles an old Parappa the Rapper game. Others will take multiple pictures of what Kinect sees at set intervals and ?stacks? them so that you can make yourself have multiple limbs or anything else you can think of. There?s a ball pit that you?ll feel compelled to jump into (I know I did) and even a Kaleidoscope that splices in whatever you?re doing on camera for a crazy trip to see.

Because you?re not given any direction of what to do or even why, everything becomes very natural and simplistic. There?s no set purpose of any of the stages, but that?s part of the fun, seeing what happens when you try new things. To some it may seem like a mini-game compilation of sorts; I see it as a playground that shows some of the more unique possibilities that Kinect offers for experiences.

It?s a fantastic little title for children of all ages, and to be honest, I probably had more fun than I should have, as I was climbing up on my furniture to avoid the lava and jumping into the ball pit that appeared in my living room. Why? It was fun and I felt compelled to see what happens. Whatever you do in front of the Kinect, it will react; because of this, I see this more as a great title to simply leave on while you have friends or kids over, as anyone that walks by the TV will most likely stop and try to interact with what they see. No menus, scores, or competition means that you can simply walk up and play; there are no restrictions of any sorts.

Up to six people can play at once as well, which makes it a perfect background game for a party, regardless if it?s for some younger children, or the older ?kids? that may possibly be drunk. Regardless of the audience, there are laughs to be had as long as you go in expecting a ?non-game?. Try the demo, and if you like what you see and have a creative imagination (or children), much entertainment should be had for the 800 Microsoft Points it costs to download.

More 'levels' please!

Overall: 8.8 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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