Double Fine proved they had their heads wrapped around the Kinect pretty well with last year’s retail release, Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster. That game was perfect for parents and kids to play together, plus it sparkled with the trademark Double Fine charm. The studio’s sophomore Kinect release, Happy Action Theater, is a smaller-scale Xbox Live Arcade game. While HAT (as I’ll now shorten it because I love headware) largely lacks traditional structure or goals, it bursts at the seams with multiperson silliness.
HAT is a collection of 18 minigames and visualizers somewhat reminiscent of the Wario Ware series. As each minigame concludes, it’s on to the next one. Experience all 18 in one go and the cycle starts over again. If you don’t like a particular minigame or just want to play your favorite, you can either stick out your left arm (lame) or pick up a controller (awesome). The bumper buttons skip back and forth between games, and you can also switch to a director’s chair mode and scroll through each activity. The physical controls for switching minigames are inexplicably awkward – it’s hard to tell which activity the ‘cursor’ is highlighting. Still, controller support for menu navigation is a rare and welcome inclusion in Kinect games.
The 18 included activities vary wildly from each other, but they fall into three basic categories: Eye Toy-like games that display everything in the Kinect’s field of vision, games that create sprites out of each player, and non-game visualizers.
- The first category includes such enjoyable activities as popping balloons, digging through balls, playing in snow or lava, and more. These are the most fun with a large number of players – watching a room full of kids joyfully pretend they’re in a ball pit is super entertaining. Sometimes the actual objective can be tough to figure out due to the lack of instructions, but you’ll usually get the jist of it.
- The second and most videogame-ish category provides a Space Invaders clone, an Arkanoid clone, and a game in which players float on platforms shooting fireballs at each other. HAT does a great job of turning players into live-action sprites; I wouldn’t mind buying a collection of Kinectified classic arcade games. These games work best with a small number of players – two or three rather than the maximum of 6.
- Finally, the visualizers are a mixed bag. They mix pictures and video feeds of players with trippy Kaleidoscope-like visuals… They’re more of a novelty than anything. But the one that lets you dance in 2D fashion among a field of Parappa the Rapper-like characters is both amusing and visually impressive.