Not a traditional video game in that there are no goals, objectives or tutorials, Happy Action Theater offers 18 remarkable settings where families can experiment. They can jiggle inside a dish of Jell-O, tumble inside of a kaleidoscope or slosh their way through a puddle of goo. They can react to hot lava filling their room or experiment with virtual snow. In another scene, your play room transforms into an ocean scene where you swim with the schools of fish while avoiding being pulled out of the scene by a tempting pizza dangling on a human-sized hook. It's hilarious.
Picking up on the theater theme, Happy Action Theater opens with a set of closed curtains appearing on the screen. You feel as if you are sitting in the audience of a theater. Then the curtains open, you see yourself, your kids, and all of your furniture, but things have been altered or augmented. The game uses the Kinect camera to capture the image of your room and then places you and everything in it into the game. Families can rotate thru the 18 different scenes where each appears for a short period of time. Or they can select their favorite scene and explore it for a longer time period.
When presented with a scene, things start happening depending how you move and what you do. In one scene, you will feel as if you have been transported into Disney's Snow White movie where the friendly birds are landing on your shoulders. It's enchanting. In the next, you may have sprouted wings so that you look like a butterfly. Insects are dive-bombing you from above, but if you raise your hands, you can send green goo flying to knock the insects out of the air.
Downloadable for 800 Microsoft Points ($10), Happy Action Theater creates an exciting way for a group of people to have fun with Kinect. With no rules and no instructions, the game entices players to start experimenting. For example, what happens if you swat at a balloon? It may shoot up or pop. But the game also encourages you to think outside of the box. What should you do in the scene where it starts to snow? The snow will start to cover the screen so wiping it off seems obvious. But what happens if you stand still? Surprisingly, by not moving, a fun result takes place -- you turn to ice and then dramatically break apart. Likewise in the constantly moving kaleidoscope scene, the colors you are wearing become prominent. How can you change the tableau? Put on a hat? Grab a brightly covered book? Pull grandpa into the scene?
Happy Action Theater recognizes up to six people in a scene, and it allows players to drop in and drop out. It can also handle people being different heights so your five-year old can be using his body to move balloons while an adult will be reaching down with a hand to reach the same balloons.
There are a few scenes that could be a little scary for the youngest gamer. In one, you are inserted into a 50's movie scene where you are the monster stomping on buildings and swatting helicopters out of the sky. In another you can shoot fireballs at other players and characters on the screen. Young kids might be afraid of being bombarded by attacking bugs, so you might want to choose which scenes would be best for your group of participants.
The bottom line is that Happy Action Theater is a great half hour activity for a group of people to explore. It is fascinating, exciting, and like nothing they have played before on the Kinect. It is a perfect way to encourage kids to be creative in how they move their bodies. But it isn't something you will play repeatedly; rather, you will turn it on when you have a slumber party or a family game night.
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.