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Double Fine Happy Action Theater: Kinect-ing At Last

Saturday, 3 March 2012 08:31 GMT By Mike

A cheap and cheerful downloadable title has done more to sell Mike Bowden on the future of Microsoft’s motion control than all the auto showrooms and tactical commands in the world.

Double Fine Happy Action Theater

A collection of playgrounds for the young and the young at heart – by which we mean people who don’t actively hate enjoyment and goodness.

Tim Schafer’s first personally-led project since Brütal Legend.

Completely ignore Kinect’s advanced skeletal tracking capacities and focuses on silhouettes – and really works, even with kids.

Pat likes it a lot, too.

Unlike the majority of hardcore (I hate that term) gamers, I can proudly attest that I have certified DNA proof that I have had sex at least twice. Also, unlike the majority of hardcore gamers, I have Microsoft’s motion-cam, Kinect. I bought it “for the family”, which is a great ruse in order to get the missus to loosen the purse springs for some new tech, as many other members of the “I’ve done it with a woman and I’ve got the child to prove it” club will testify.

It was only after we opened the box and set it up that we realised my then-four-year-old son could not use it without my constant assistance. He needed me to configure the thing, log-in, select the game-type, then the sub-game type, then sub-sub game-type etc. I had to tell him to stand back, to the left, shout louder, to the right a bit, not there – whilst attempting to keep his extremely excited little brother from wandering into and bursting the Kinect-bubble that many motion games force you to create in order to play them.

In short, utter nightmare leading to Kinect not being played for about a year.

Even with some gentle nudging from me, he (now 5½ – the half being of utmost importance) wanted the comfort of a pad. The pad, you see, isn’t complicated. The marketing says it is. In fact, both Nintendo and now MS are, and have been, telling us that the traditional controller consisting, of fiddly sticks and confusing buttons, is a thing of the past. The future? An imprecise waggly stick with some awkward thumb-thingy or no controller at all. However, both come with rules and restrictions and take the immediacy and most of all, fun out of gaming.

Recently, after several PC hardware problems, I’d been looking at selling my Kinect cam so I can get the ol’ rust bucket moving at light-speed again. Funnily enough, my eldest son likes playing Bit Trip Runner and Super Meat Boy – using a keyboard. I know, you can take your jaws from the flaw MS and Ninty execs, the super-complicated, hackneyed keyboard is more preferable to a child than, “move here”, “configure this”, “sign in as that”, “don’t put your arms there” etc. Like, durr.

For anyone who has bought Kinect and actually wants to – in modern parlance – “have a laugh” with it, then spend 800 Microsoft Points on Double Fine’s Happy Action Theater. Seriously, do it. Do it now.

Then, the unthinkable happened: a game came along that didn’t require any of the above. None of it. He turned it on, stood in front a camera that didn’t need to know what profile his image was or should be attached to, chose a singular game-type with the simple, almost imprecise wave of a hand, and played. Mum was sat on the sofa, “lille bror” ran around flapping and screaming, getting in his older brother’s way, the big man himself ran forwards backwards, popping in and out of view as he, like every other five-and-a-half-year-old, became sidetracked; all this and the game didn’t mind. In fact, it only added to the fun.

For anyone who has bought Kinect, and like me has practically consigned it to the virtual, and perhaps literal, scrap heap due to the endless hoops and hindrances, and actually wants to – in modern parlance – “have a laugh” with it, then spend 800 Microsoft Points on Double Fine’s Happy Action Theater. Seriously, do it. Do it now.

Happy Action Theatre epitomises everything that Kinect games aren’t, but at the same time encapsulates everything that Kinect gaming should be: instantly accessible, light-hearted, simple, family fun. Aleks plays it every day. I play it with him. Kris tries to play it. Mum stands and watches, smiling broadly. Isn’t that the idyllic picture we’ve been sold since the beginning? So why has it taken so goddam long to finally arrive?

Decent question. However, from an outsider’s point of view, a very difficult one to answer. (as you know, I’m not a developer – can’t code for crisps.) Is it too easy to simply look at Tim Schafer and say, “well, the man’s a genius” and then leave it at that? I’m tempted to – as after lapping up all Double Fine’s downloadable offerings since the superb Pyschonauts and of course playing every Schafer-adventure, you could consider me a fan.

Or can we blame the tech itself? I mean, being cruel and going totally against the spirit of the game, Happy Action Theatre looks abysmal; low-res in-game graphics with an simple engine based around broad gestures only. No real finesse, no detail, no depth. But should these negative nouns actually be applied to the camera itself? Is the very nature of the beast – the bubble Kinect needs in order to work as the hardcore wants – the very thing that holds it back in terms producing a triple-A title? Again, very easy to blame the tech: a bad workman blames his tools etc., amirite?

If none of these grab you in the slightest,
consult a medical doctor. Quickly.

Whatever the reason, Lord Schafer’s ‘Theatre poses a problem in that it has set a rather uncomfortable benchmark for all developers of subsequent Kinect titles: “How are we going to give the player that amount of freedom and still make our game work?” Because, believe it or not, the very thing that stops me from playing it isn’t the lack of the h4rdc0r3 gamez, it’s the very thing that stops my target-audience children from playing it. It’s finicky, fastidious, too much faffing!

With all that said, I had reached a point where I regretted buying Kinect, but Double Fine’s Happy Action Theatre came along and changed all that. However, is Schafer’s unique song and dance going to be a one-hit wonder, or will other developers learn from his libertarian approach and put immediacy back in the charts?

So if, like me, you one day actually want to prove you’ve done it with a lady instead of lying to your mates over Messenger about it and in a not too distant future end up with a Kinect under your TV, Happy Action Theater is your day-one purchase. It’s everything a rudderless game should be, and my family wants more.

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14 Comments

  1. chris_emf

    Oh great, another gamers-are-virgins gag. Is it any wonder the mainstream press & comedians fall back on this myth / cheap gag, when the gaming specialist press still propagates it?

    #1 3 years ago
  2. Dragon246

    Such a long boring story just to state the fact that game is good. Ok, I get it. Now please write your next article as a “advice on games” article/opinion not a “advice on how to prove you have done it with a lady” one.
    “So if, like me, you one day actually want to prove you’ve done it with a lady instead of lying to your mates over Messenger about it”
    That is a kind of stereotype gamer that is used by people who think they know about gaming more than anyone else.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. neural

    I completely agree with the article: my son loves it and every time we’ve got friends with kids at home it’s a great party fueler. I’d liken it to those indoor playgrounds where kids like to go, only in your home. Kinect does’n need hardcore games, imho it isn’t in its dna at all: it needs more of these silly yet highly, instantly, enjoyable games.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. OrbitMonkey

    You made your kids play Kinnect? Fucking Monster! Call Child Services!!

    #4 3 years ago
  5. absolutezero

    oh ho a lonely virgin joke right at the start of an article way to bring in the readers morriss!

    #5 3 years ago
  6. NiceFellow

    Odd article. Wouldn’t it to be shorter just to note that Kinect finally has a second IP (the first being the Dance Central IP) that actually plays best with the device?

    Everything else I’ve tried, while sometimes fun like Kinect Adventures, would clearly play better with a Wii Mote or Move or a gamepad of some sort. Although maybe it’s 2.5 titles as Kinectimals used Kinect pretty well.

    Still, given few developers really used Wii Mote (or have still to use Move) to their true potential I guess it’s no surprise something like Kinect – which is much more abstract as an input device – should really stump them and result in a bunch of Wii like titles that adapt to using Kinect as a less effective input mechanism.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. DSB

    I think you can count on the virgin jokes being around for as long as they’re rewarded with that kind of reaction :P

    #7 3 years ago
  8. absolutezero

    Fair point, I just would have expected a bit more you know? That first line just put me off reading the rest of the article, like when someone calls you a basement dweller on the internet.

    Why set up what could have been a nice story about kinect finding a point for itself with a crap out-dated sterotype?

    OR

    “How to open an opinion piece from Martin Eurogamers Big Book of Games Journalism Cliches.”

    #8 3 years ago
  9. Mike

    I’m glad everyone’s really enjoying the article. The next one will be just as good, I promise.

    #9 3 years ago
  10. absolutezero

    I still love you morriss.

    #10 3 years ago
  11. DSB

    @8 I don’t disagree. I didn’t think it was witty or funny at all, but I can sympathize with that. I’ve tried to force the funny because I felt like that was an appropriate schtick for a piece, but sadly, being funny takes more than a healthy caffeine buzz. Shit happens.

    It’s more the notion that virgin jokes are supposedly such a cardinal offense to gamers everywhere, that I think is pretty sad.

    That sort of insecurity is a far greater hindrance for the advancement of gaming than old jokes. You don’t see movie directors freaking out every time they’re called a bunch of coked up pedophile windbags – Which I’m guessing is probably because they’re comfortable with what they’re doing.

    If gamers themselves aren’t comfortable with what they’re doing, they can’t expect anyone else to be either.

    Confidence and authority are two crucial differences between a “nerd” and an “expert” :P

    #11 3 years ago
  12. manamana

    @6 you haven’t tried playing Child of Eden after MariJ sang a song to your lungs, did you?

    #12 3 years ago
  13. Mike

    My only comment on “the joke” is that it was meant to be self effacing and ironic and not in any way meant to be taken literally. But anyway. Buy the game.

    #13 3 years ago
  14. NiceFellow

    @6 I have – and it’s very good. But it’s also very good on PS3 with Move having tried that too. Therefore I don’t see Eden being truly better with Kinect. With Kinect the feel of waving your arms is very good, however Move does the job just as well and in some ways feels more like you’re a conducter as you have something baton shaped in your hand.

    My view is only Dance Central has felt truly better on Kinect – i.e. it’s clearly superior tech for such as game vs Wii and Move. I think Scahfer’s new title may also be geniuely better with Kinect too.

    #14 3 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    Assassin’s Creed fans, don’t try this at home. Assassin’s Creed characters can survive falls of almost any distance as long as they aim for the haystacks scattered handily throughout the environment. As you probably deduced from your familiarity with common sense, this isn’t a real thing: falling from heights kills you, the same way a […]

  • Why are people buying PS4 and not Xbox One?

    PS4 is outselling Xbox One – but why? A new report may have the answer. Last month, the PS4 outsold the Xbox One in the US again, returning it to the top of the charts after just two months away. Why? What has caused this reversal in fortunes in Microsoft’s home territory? According to a […]

  • Toejam and Earl are back with a new Kickstarter

    The early 90′s are alive and well in a new bid to bring back Toejam and Earl. Toejam and Earl released for Mega Drive (Genesis, Americans) in 1991, and the eponymous characters went on to count among Sega’s best-known characters. They appeared in a platformer, a light gun shooter and finally a 2002 Xbox game […]

  • New Wander trailer shows off Azertash form

    Wander is a collaborative, non-combat MMO in which you can take on a number of unique forms. Wander players begin as an ambulant tree called an Oren and can progress through several different bodies as they explore the environment, learning its secrets. One of these, which we’d not seen before this trailer, is the amphibious […]

  • SOMA approaching beta phase on PC and PS4

    SOMA, the new horror game from the Amnesia: The Dark Descent crew, is getting close to playable. Frictional Games has apologised for its recent silence over the project, but said it’s focused on reaching beta. Sorry all for the silence! We're closing in on Beta and everyone's working hard to get there. Once that's done, […]

  • Square Enix does not condone Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest HD Remaster

    Square Enix has said it’s not involved with a fan remake of Final Fantasy spin-off Mystic Quest. 1992 SNES game Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest is being remade by Dark Design as Mystic Quest HD Remaster. The developer is even taking pre-orders for the project. Unfortunately, it looks like it is in no position to be […]

  • New Hunger teaser released by LittleBigPlanet Vita co-developers

    LittleBigPlanet Vita co-developers Tarsier Studios have released a teaser trailer for Hunger, which was announced in May 2014 at the Nordic Game Conference. The game has been rumored to be the firm’s unannounced Sony project since 2010. Platforms are still to be announced, but the studio became a first-party SCE developer a few years back, […]

  • Here’s two Mario Party 10 overview videos, one featuring amiibo

    Overview videos for Mario Party 10 and the amiibo which work with the title have been released by Nintendo Japan. Obviously each one is in Japanese, but you get the gist all the same. Mario Party 10 releases on Wii U March 20 in North America and Europe. Thanks, AGB.

  • Clan Raids announced for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Companion App

    Activision has announced a new Clan Raids mode will be made available through the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Companion App. According to the CoD community blog, raids are time-based challenges where success earns you a spot on the Clan Raids leaderboards and new Clan Raid-exclusive in-game gear like the Equilibrium set. Clan members will […]

  • Play Battlefield Hardline starting March 12 through EA Access

    Xbox One users with an EA Access subscription will be able to play 10 hours worth of Battlefield Hardline starting March 12. EA Access members will are being granted access to the game five days before the street date, with full multiplayer and all saves transferring over into the main game. It was announced yesterday […]

  • This video summarizes the contents of Destiny patch 1.1.1

    With Destiny patch 1.1.1 now available, here’s a video summary of what to expect. In the video above, Arekkz Gaming gives you a rundown of the important bits in the update. Subscribe to Arekkz Gaming for more Destiny tips and trick through the link.

  • Destiny 1.1.1 patch notes out, update is live

    Destiny’s 1.1.1 patch arrives today, so if you have been kicked from activities, it means you will need to download the patch now that it’s live. We will be pushing the 1.1.1 patch for Destiny shortly. Players will be kicked from activities and required to download the patch. — Bungie Help (@BungieHelp) February 25, 2015 […]

  • Payday 2 packs based on Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number coming

    Starbreeze has announced another collaboration with Dennaton Games which will see masks based on Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number appear in Payday 2. The collaboration consists of two free updates when you acquire Hotline Miami 2 or its deluxe version on Steam from February 25. The two updates, called Hotline Miami Mask Pack and Jacket […]

  • Velocity 2X making its way onto Linux, Mac, PC and Xbox One

    Velocity 2X will be released on Linux, Mac, PC and Xbox One Futurlab has announced. The developer is in charge of the port, which will be published by Sierra. According to Futurlab, the deal with Sierra came about when self-publishing proved to be difficult due to spending “more time doing PR and marketing on Velocity […]

  • Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number finally has a release date

    A release date for Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number has been announced, finally. The game will arrive on Linux, Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PS4 and Vita March 10. It is now available for pre-order on GOG, Humble and Steam for 10% off for $13.49/£10.99. There’s also a Digital Special Edition available which includes tracks from […]

  • Warhammer 40,000: Dark Nexus Arena is a twin stick shooter MOBA for PC

    Warhammer 40,000: Dark Nexus Arena has been announced as a twin stick shooter MOBA blend from Whitebox Interactive. Set for a 2016 release on PC, the game’s beta will be on show at PAX East next month. An Early Access release is slated for Q2 2015 and you can already purchase early access for a […]

  • More information, videos for cancelled Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun surface

    A trailer for the cancelled Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun title from Climax which was reportedly set for an E3 2012 reveal, has surfaced. Along with the above video is another which is described as a pre-boss battle cutscene. It’s below. According to a source of NeoGAF’s Mama Robotnik, the game was being developed under […]

  • Three additional games added to Square Enix Humble Bundle

    Kane & Lynch Collection, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light and Startopia have been added to the Square Enix Humble Bundle. All three are made available when paying the average price of $7.69. Those who have already purchased the bundle will automatically be granted the titles. All three are available for PC only. The […]

  • Forza Horizon 2 gets Fast & Furious with standalone expansion

    A Fast & Furious tie-in and standalone expansion to Forza Horizon 2 will arrive for Xbox consoles next month. Titled Forza Horizon 2 Presents Fast & Furious, the downloadable title does not require the base game to play. “We’ve been talking with the folks at Turn 10 for a number of years and have always […]

  • The Evil Within: The Assignment has a release date, new trailer

    The Evil Within: The Assignment will be released on March 10 in North America and March 11 in Europe, it was announced today. Along with an exact release date was a trailer detailing more information about the first set of DLC. The Assignment is the first of two DLCs centering on Detective Castellanos’ mysterious partner, […]

  • Steam and GOG cross-platform multiplayer added to AvP Classic 2000

    Steam and GOG have announced Aliens vs Predator Classic 2000 owners will be able play multiplayer with each other across both platforms. With the recent online multiplayer update for for AVP Classic 2000, Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley has made good on his promise from June to offer cross-platform play between the Steam and GOG platforms. […]

  • OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood arrives on PS4, Vita next week

    Roll7 has announced it will release OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood next week. The developer announced the dates on Twitter this morning alongside the launch trailer. You will be able to download the game for PlayStation 4 and Vita March 3 in North America and March 4 in Europe.

  • Week 7: Play GTA Online with VG247 tonight at 8pm UK time!

    Heists got a date! Come play GTA Online with us to celebrate. We’re playing GTA Online on PS4 tonight with whoever else fancies it. That means you. This week’s playlist is Happy for Heists, because we kind of are. The six jobs involved will last about 45 minutes. Anyone can turn up. Here’s how. We’ll […]

  • Batman: Arkham Knight – first look into the story

    Batman: Arkham Knight has a new trailer available that gives us a peek into Scarecrow’s plan to unite all villains against Batman. The trailer below has a different tone to the ones showing Arkham Knight. Instead, we get a look at Scarecrow’s team of super-villains including new footage of Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. There […]

  • Vita knocks New 3DS LL out of top slot on Media Create charts

    Thanks to four new titles, one of which was God Eater 2: Rage Burst, PlayStation Vita has knocked New 3DS LL out of the top slot on the Media Create charts in Japan. The handheld, which came in thrid place last week, moved 35,203 units for the February 16-22 period, compared to 10,901 units the […]

  • Dragon Quest Heroes coming west in 2015, PS4 only

    Dragon Quest Heroes will be making its way to west this year. Square Enix has announced that it’s bringing Dragon Quest Heroes to the west this year. The press release mentioned only PAL territories (Europe & Australia). Though it’s unlikely it will miss the US. The game will release on PlayStation 4, both digitally and […]

  • Destiny: how to make sure Crota stays down for longer

    If you’re familiar with the final encounter of the Crota’s End raid, then you know every second Crota is immobilised counts. Arekkz Gaming has a handy tip for anyone who’s played Crota’s End or anyone attempting it. The trick is simple to execute and will ensure Crota stays on his knees for longer, making for […]

  • NBA Live 15 added to EA Access just four months after release

    EA has added NBA Live 15 to the list of games available instantly to anyone with an EA Access subscription. NBA Live 15 has been added to EA Access’ Vault, EA has announced. As of today, anyone with an EA Access subscription on Xbox One can play it alongside other available games. NBA Live 15 […]

  • Deal: get Advanced Warfare Limited Edition Xbox One bundle + extra game for £299

    UK retailer GAME is offering a good deal on the Advanced Warfare Limited Edition 1TB Xbox One bundle and is throwing in an extra game. The retailer has reduced the price of the bundle to £299, which is the usual price for the standalone console. The bundle is of course Advanced Warfare-themed. The console and […]

  • That Metal Gear Rising 2 logo was for the second anniversary of the original

    Metal Gear Rising developer Platinum Games has confirmed, once and for all, that the “2″ logo we saw during Sony’s presentation at Taipei Game Show was definitely not for a sequel. Platinum posted this on Twitter earlier. デザイナーの趙&ニシイから、『MGR』2周年記念イラスト! ディレクターの齋藤( @PG_saito )が、開発スタッフブログでご紹介しています↓↓ http://t.co/IW1aOxAZQR #mgr pic.twitter.com/ZbNF3Jk1tF — PlatinumGames Inc. (@platinumgames) February 25, 2015 The illustrations were made by artist Yong-Hee […]

  • Resident Evil Revelations 2 is formulaic and I’m okay with that

    There’s something comforting about the lack of ambition and plain old gameplay in Resident Evil Revelations 2, says Matt Martin. “It’s locked from the other side.” Of course it is. What did I expect? I’ve been here before. So many times. Not just in Resident Evil but a million other games. It’s so familiar as […]

  • Battlefield 4: double XP event live now through Sunday

    EA is holding a double XP event in Battlefield 4 on all platforms. The publisher is celebrating Battlefield Hardline going gold by offering all Battlefield 4 players double XP in multiplayer matches. The double XP event is now live and through 23:59 UTC on Sunday, March 1.

  • BioShock Infinite, Tomb Raider, Rayman Legends free with March Games with Gold

    The list of free games coming in March as part of Microsoft’s Games with Gold programme has leaked. The leaked list of games include Rayman Legends and #IDARB for Xbox One along with Tomb Raider and BioShock Infinite for Xbox 360. In addition, Microsoft will be offering double the amount of games in April. The […]

  • Telltale’s new IP will be a “super show”, bridges the gap between TV and game

    Telltale’s upcoming mysterious new IP will be produced in collaboration with Lionsgate and will be a hybrid game and TV show. Entertainment Weekly spoke to Telltale CEO Kevin Bruner to understand what’s a super show. “A “Super Show” episode combines one part of interactive playable content with one part of scripted television style content,” said […]

  • Next Mortal Kombat X stream to show Brutalities, new character

    Brutalities will be making a return in Mortal Kombat X and we’re getting a look at them very soon. The next Mortal Kombat X live-stream has been dated and we know it will show Brutalities for the first time. Developer NetherRealm Studios posted this on Twitter. pic.twitter.com/ZJYN1FNRZ9 — NetherRealm Studios (@NetherRealm) February 23, 2015 Notice […]

  • PC version of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 does not support offline co-op [Update]

    Players who bought the PC version of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 have realised that the game doesn’t support offline co-op. Unlike the console versions, the PC version of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 can only be played in single player, with no offline co-op option. Capcom has not revealed this prior to launch. Instead, users on […]