Happy Action Theater was developed by Double Fine Productions and published by Microsoft Studios. It was released February 1, 2012 for 800 MSP. A copy was provided for review purposes.

Double Fine Productions is a household name when it comes to Xbox Live Arcade games. Stacking, Trenched/Iron Brigade and Costume Quest are all titles that everyone should have on their machine. They’re all original properties; they were risks for both Double Fine and their publishers to put out, but each has succeeded. Now Double Fine wants to go out on a limb with their new Kinect title, Happy Action Theater.

The game itself is a collection of 18 minigames. Most involve players viewing themselves on screen with other digitized elements added such as snow, lava, or water. Players interact with objects in the environment such as balloons or fish to have them in turn react. There is no winning the game. It’s just you and the environment and acting like a fool. To some that sounds like fun. To others, well…

Here’s what we liked:

It’s brave – The folks at Double Fine Productions are no strangers to taking risks. Only one of their titles (Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster) has been based on an existing property with a near-guarantee that it’ll sell well. Happy Action Theater is definitely a case of ‘once more into the breach’ as Happy Action Theater has nothing to do with controlling an on-screen avatar. It’s all about interacting with the environment as yourself.

It’s variedHappy Action Theater comes with 18 minigames. While most are variations on reacting to on-screen objects in your living room, others stray into stray into the realm of both unique and bizarre. The word ‘games’ should be used loosely here–some of these minigames are no more robust than Kinect Sparkler. Flatness aside, it’s technically impressive as you watch fish, balloons, lava, snow and more dynamically change according to your interactions.

Fun for the whole family – The biggest selling point of Happy Action Theater is the family aspect. This isn’t a game for soloist. Getting family or friends together to all be on screen at once is great fun, and kids eat these minigames up. The game “supports” more than two players. In layman’s terms that means two people will actually be tracked by Kinect while the others can still be seen on screen.  It’s not ideal, but it’s still fun.

Here’s what we didn’t like:

Feels like a tech demo – While it’s impressive to see what can be done with Kinect, very few of the 18 modes actually feel like games. You’ll find yourself trying each one out, playing around with it for a bit, getting a “hey, that’s cool” moment, then moving on. Anyone looking for substance of any sort should look somewhere else. Anywhere else.

Boring solo – Yes, it’s meant to be a family game. But the fact of the matter is that there is nothing that will appeal to those who don’t have a family or throw parties. Prancing around in your living room filled with on-screen snow is only going to disturb that old lady peeping in your window from her living room. She already thinks you’re strange enough.

Absurd pricing – While the initial draw of 18 minigames seems like a steal at 800 MSP, you’ll soon find that you gravitate to only a small handful of those. Even if development costs were high it just feels like twice as much as it’s worth. We would have much rather seen these offered as individual Kinect Fun Labs apps that we could pick and choose from.

The plain and simple criteria on buy this game is whether you’re social or not. If you have friends over often there’s some draw to having quirky Kinect games. If you have kids that love Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster then this is an absolute purchase. It’s easy for kids to pick up because there’s not much to it. If you’re someone who mostly games alone there isn’t anything here that’s more interesting than watching recorded gameplay of Happy Action Theater. If you’re a loner, skip it. For everyone else…

Score: Try It