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Double Fine’s Happy Action Theater Preview

The biggest problem with children’s gaming is that games for kids typically suck. Often-licensed titles that resort to bland platforming, kid’s games wallow in mediocrity. Occasionally, a developer will run with something and create a game that will appeal to everyone, not just children.

Double Fine is one such developer. While most people over 10 may not want to play the well-received Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster, critically, the game proved a great gaming go-between for children and their parents on Kinect.

Can Tim Schafer’s team of developers recreate a successful children’s game that can appeal to both kids and adults? Apparently so, for they hope to appeal to any child of any age with what can best be described as an interactive toy for Kinect: Double Fine’s Happy Action Theater.

A digitally distributed title, this Kinect exclusive has no goals and no real objectives, but a whole lot of interactivity. Simply a series of different action scenes, what Double Fine’s Happy Action Theater does is create a representation of your living room, and through various screen filters and graphical overlays, players find themselves interacting in wild and wacky ways.

For example, one scene will fill the living room with lava, ankle high, with players kicking and pushing molten magma. Other scenes will fill the scene with water splashing off various appendages as they grow flowers. Snow will fall in another one, letting kids throw snowballs, kick up snow, pile snow on tables, or even freeze in an ice sculpture.

Even more variations exist, such as a black and white monster movie as players knock over buildings. Others act as simple graphical filters that transform players into disco dancers or incorporate them into insane psychedelic kaleidoscopes. Rooms can be full of bouncy balls, balloons, water, and more. My favorite one was where the game would take a series of pictures, letting players layer poses on top of each other.

Each of these little interactive scenes will last for a few minutes at a time, much like WarioWare, however these games have no goal, which is part of their charm. Listening to Schafer talk about the game, Double Fine’s Happy Action Theater is perfectly suited to a bunch of little kids to run around in front of the TV and explore. This game really seems to actively encourage creativity and imagination. When you have three to five people bouncing around in front of a TV, people come up with some really neat things to do.

And note! Schafer joked that college students under-the-influence will find a lot to like about this game, and I can certainly confirm that this is true. Have a party, turn the game on, and you can guarantee that people will be jumping in and out over the night.

For a digital title with such a simple premise, I found Double Fine Happy Action Theater to be wholly entertaining. It’s certainly not for everyone, and it is not very deep, but for a unique experience that you cannot get anywhere else, it doesn’t get much more fun than this,

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Ben PerLee
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