decker12's Double Fine Happy Action Theater (Xbox 360 Games Store) review

Kinect Developers: Take Notice!

DFHT is a cheap, simple, and incredibly satisfying diversion geared to the under 8 year old crowd. It’s more of a fancy tech demo than a full featured game, but for kids, it’s fantastic. My 6 year old has spent hours playing each of the mini games and when her friends come over, they go crazy. It’s all unstructured play – there’s no winners or losers, no scores to keep track of, and nothing hidden to have to grind away and “unlock”.

As a parent, I am absolutely THRILLED with the way Double Fine designed this game. There’s no complicated menus, no signing in profiles or choosing storage devices, and no pause menu that rudely pops up the instant your kid steps out of frame. You start the game and in a minute, your kids are jumping around enjoying themselves. It’s just plain fun for kids and shows off the technical capabilities of the Kinect pretty well.

Huge kudos to the devs for actually allowing us to use a regular Xbox controller to pause or change mini games. I can show my kids the one button on the controller that they can push to “skip” to the next game, or the button that lets them continue playing the current game forever. I can also jump in and play with them, without having to wave have the Kinect go into it’s usual “detecting new user” routine.

Other Kinect developers, take notice! Let us use a controller instead of pushing our kids out of the way and waving our hands to make changes! If you’re making a kids game, make it easy enough for the kids to play every part of it without having to interrupt their play to “let daddy fix that” if they jump out of the frame for a second!

Each mini game lasts a couple of minutes and then switches to the next game. You can use the controller to stick with a particular game for as long as you want, or you can skip past the ones you don’t want to play.

Of course, as an older kid or an adult, once you see each mini game once or twice, you’ll probably be done with the game, as there are no high scores to beat or items to unlock or a story to progress. Even for kids, some of the mini games can be a bit tiring after seeing them a few times. The “Still Camera” game takes a series of 5 pictures, each time freezing the previous shot and letting you clone yourself. It’s cute, but this particular minigame does the 5-picture setup several times and runs a little long. Some other games are less interactive, or it’s difficult for your actions to see what difference you’re making in the minigame.

In the future, it’d be nice to let the user create a “playlist” of games so you can avoid the ones your kids don’t like. Of course, more games are always welcome for any future releases. Also, being able to randomize the game order and/or set the amount of time each game appears would be helpful.

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