They say all the world's a stage. The truth of that statement is debatable, but with Double Fine Happy Action Theater, your living room certainly becomes one. Using the Kinect to transform your surroundings into a number of outlandish settings, Happy Action Theater makes you and your friends the star players in an assortment of interactive scenarios. There's no need for stage fright, though; because there are no goals, nothing you do is ever wrong. It's impossible to fail, and the audience applauds happily at the end of every scene regardless of what you do.
It's a smart use of the Kinect that avoids the frustrations that are sometimes associated with the device; you don't have to worry about it failing to recognize your inputs at key moments because it never asks for specific gestures. Happy Action Theater uses whatever you give it. It's a toy, not a game, and young kids are sure to enjoy its free-form structure, which encourages imaginative play. It's also ideal for parties with people of any age, as long as they're young at heart. It can track up to six participants at once, and its silly scenarios appeal to the goofball in all of us. But without any concrete goals, there's no sense of progress, so after you've messed around with it for a little while and seen all 18 of its scenarios, you may not feel compelled to come back.
By default, Happy Action Theater automatically advances through its scenarios; every few minutes, the curtains close on one setup and open up on another. It starts off by making it look like your room is filling with balloons, and who can resist the urge to jump around and pop them? Next up is a scene in which your gestures guide fireworks across the screen. There are prop rockets to ignite, and interaction is encouraged; if you high-five another player, for instance, a special firework is set off. Next, a stream of lava convincingly appears to course through your surroundings. Obviously, this isn't a desirable situation in real life, but here, you're free to splash about in the stream, which is liberating and empowering. And it's a joy to see your room converted into such varied environments.
The visual inventiveness continues as Happy Action Theater turns your room into a sun-dappled grove where you can feed birds, stand still and let them perch on you, or scare them until they gang up to eat you to bits! (Seeing yourself temporarily disappear entirely is Happy Action Theater's niftiest visual trick.) This tranquil scene transitions into one in which you're a Godzilla-sized monster capable of trampling buildings and knocking aircraft out of the sky. There's a kaleidoscope in which your movements shape the psychedelic patterns, as well as a wonderfully amusing disco dance party in which you cut a rug with more hip-shakin' and toe-tappin' flexibility than any human being has ever possessed.
There's also a winter wonderland in which you can toss snowballs and turn yourself into a frozen statue, as well as an aquatic scene where you can swim with the fishes. And, yes, there are a few scenarios that resemble traditional arcade games. In one, which resembles Space Invaders, you move left and right along the bottom of the screen to destroy descending enemies. Another one controls similarly but plays more like Breakout. Despite looking like arcade games, these scenarios are as low pressure as everything else about Happy Action Theater. You can have fun watching your score climb, but there's no way to lose or die.
You can leave Happy Action Theater to its own devices; just set it up at a party and let people hop in to interact with it whenever they want as it cycles through its scenarios. Or you can take control, skipping between activities or sticking with one indefinitely. However you set the stage, Double Fine Happy Action Theater encourages play in the purest sense of the word. Its diverse and imaginative scenarios will delight children, and it's a great fit for social settings as a way of getting people on their feet and interacting with each other in a spirit of warm, uncompetitive fun. That total lack of competition or progress means that there's little reason for individual players to come back to it, but that's also the quality that makes it such a refreshingly different offering. If you have some people to share the stage with, you'll enjoy frolicking in the limelight of Happy Action Theater.