I admit that even though I was the first in line to buy a Kinect on launch day and I probably have been a little hard on it in the past. You really can’t blame me though, seeing as how for the last year or so we’ve been force-fed a lackluster line-up of games. My Kinect has been a little robotic piece of hardware perched atop my television, mocking me with it’s lack of decent titles. Patiently I’ve been waiting for a game that didn’t make me want to toss my smug, self-righteous little onlooker in the trash compactor. I’m glad to say that long-awaited day has finally arrived with the release of The Gunstringer from our friends at Twisted Pixel.
The Gunstringer puts you in the shoes of a skeletal cowboy marionette that was murdered by the members of his former posse. Your task is to guide our undead hero along the path of redemption on his way to get revenge on the former friends of his past life.
Controlling our suspended amigo is very simple and intuitive. With your left hand you control his movement and with your right you control his gun. Swaying your left hand to either side moves him from left to right and a quick motion upward prods him to jump over obstacles in his path. Swinging your right hand across the screen paints targets, and quickly pulling up at the elbow in the action of a gun recoil unloads your six-shooter. Not only does the simplicity and approachability of the controls allow the game to function well, it also allows people who aren’t necessarily accustomed to gaming to jump in and play with only a slight learning curve.
However, there comes a pitfall that goes hand in hand with simplicity. If a game like this suffers from lack of variety, the gameplay get old very quickly. Luckily, The Gunstringer doesn’t suffer from a deficiency of variance. The main chunk of gameplay is a lightning fast, on rails shoot-a-thon. However, thrown in the mix are elements of 2D platforming, fist flailing beat ‘em up sections, and interesting segments where you are essentially transformed into a stationary turret using both hands to aim two pistols at once. Although the game does start to feel a bit samey at some points, there is usually a completely different game mechanic on the horizon to give you a change of pace just in the nick of time.
As you would expect from any Twisted Pixel title, the aesthetics are amazing. The game is chock full of zany and fantastically memorable characters and the world is bright and flavorful. Your entire experience is portrayed as a puppet show that is being played out in front of a live audience. When I say live audience, I must stress that it is actual live action video of real people. With this premise in place, it allowed Twisted Pixel to create an entire world that is created from objects such as popsicle sticks and shirt buttons. The charm and character that this “hand-made” environment creates is very endearing and visually pleasing. As you play through the levels, you may sometimes notice the audience spectating from the background or hurling cheers and jeers at you depending on how well you are playing. Melding the real and digital worlds in such a way is brilliant and really highlights the fact that your character is, in fact, a marionette puppet. This idea even goes so far as to have you lift The Gunstringer off of the ground with your left hand at the beginning of each level. The mixture allows a fantastic, completely cartoonish setting to be placed before you, while at the same time immersing you in the experience of putting on a show for the gathered masses.
Going hand in hand with the first class visuals is the terrific music and narration. The old-timey piano tracks that continually play in the background make you feel like you’ve just stepped into any saloon in the wild west and although none of the characters speak, the narrator more than makes up for that lack of voice talent. The gruff, cowboy sounding voiceover will follow you on your adventure, spouting clever lines and making you chuckle all along the way.
Although it is a great use of the Kinect technology and the whole package is wildly entertaining, the entire experience will only take you between 4 and 5 hours to complete. Considering that it was originally intended to be a downloadable XBLA title, the length seems directly in line with what a downloadable game should be. It’s aparent that Twisted Pixel did not try to shoe horn in more of the same content just to extend the length of the game and justify the $40 price tag. What they did instead was to include a few more pieces of bite size content with the game. The entire package included in The Gunstringer is the game, a download code for Fruit Ninja Kinect, and a redemption code for a free 2 day trial of an XBL gold membership. On top of this grab bag of goodies, there is also a free DLC pack called The Wavy Tubeman Chronicles that is now available for download. I won’t bother delving into Fruit Ninja besides to say that I had a load of fun playing it and it gave me many days worth of sore arms. If you’d like to read our full review, check it out here.
However, I do plan on gushing about The Wavy Tubeman Chronicles because it is unlike any game I’ve played on a modern console. The term “DLC” should be used very loosely when describing this add-on. You can basically take everything that I’ve told you about The Gunstringer so far and throw it out the window. Look, feel, gameplay, characters… everything. The only thing recognizable about what is left is the “shoot with your right hand” mechanic. What’s substituted instead is a live action, wild west, laser gun type game that is very reminiscent of the arcade setups like Mad Dog McCree that I used to play in bowling alley arcade rooms.
Basically, you jump into a live action wild west movie and play short “shooting gallery” type segments as you progress through the insane, offbeat story. There is no real depth to the gameplay, but is still truly entertaining. One of the reasons that it captured my attention so fully is the fact that the “movie” you are interacting with was directed by Lloyd Kaufman from Troma Films (of Toxic Avenger fame). This will score big points with anyone that is as big a fan of underground movies, such as myself. For those that aren’t, the experience of interacting with this off the wall type of movie is still acutely entertaining. The DLC even includes cameos by the man himself and a full run of opening credits in true Troma style.
I’ll be the first to admit that when I heard that The Gunstringer was making the jump from downloadable game to full release, I was a bit worried. I thought that Twisted Pixel might make the mistake of simply tacking on a bit more of the same content, slap a sticker on it and throw it on the shelves. After realizing the game was priced at $40, instead of the usual $50 for Kinect titles, and packed along with DLC that gives you a completely different gameplay experience as well as throwing Fruit Ninja Kinect into the mix, I breathed a sigh of relief. And, after playing, my fears were completely and fully laid to rest. The whole package is so varied and entertaining that it brings an entirely new meaning to the words “full release title.” The whole package is awfully fun and, in my opinion, the best Kinect release to date.