It is not known exactly who he is or how he got there, but that isn’t of utmost importance. The badass skeletal six-shooting marionette cowboy known simply as The Gunstringer is on a mission and he’s not going to be taking any prisoners back to a hidden dungeon of any sort. Any beer-based bovine, saw throwing lumberjack, gun-toting samurai or evil minion that dares get in his way, will pay its final price at the hand of a steaming bullet. This is one Kinect exclusive which holds no punches and isn’t afraid to let loose. Early adopters of the motion-based peripheral should be jumping for joy after just hearing that, but there’s more: it’s a solid and entertaining game.
Twisted Pixel‘s first full retail game doesn’t dwell on creating a lengthy backstory premise. Instead, it drops players right into the thick of things, at the beginning of a lengthy revenge tale set in the dusty wild west. All you need to know is that our anti-hero was wronged, screwed over by his old posse, who seemingly plotted his assassination through whispers and deceit.
Now, there’s a chance to get payback of the most deadly kind, in theatrical fashion. You see; The Gunstringer isn’t just a creative and over-the-top video game. It’s more than that, combining interactive elements with an off-broadway play premise and approach. Please the fans and they’ll laugh, cheer and applaud. Do poorly and the boos will ring out.
The action-packed quest takes a strange route through some very interesting locations. As the skeletal six-shooting sharpshooter travels from one former pal’s lair to another, he makes his way through an old western town, a Louisiana brothel, an Asian castle and the demonic underworld. Each area plays a bit differently, with its own flavour, enemies and design elements. To say that the stages found within the confines of this DVD disc are creative, strange and unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, would actually be a bit of an understatement. The included designs are certainly all of that, with an added hint of zany, over-the-top creativity.
Jumping into this gritty yet stylized revenge tale, players take control of the imaginary puppet master who is controlling our titular hero’s strings. Using the Kinect peripheral, each arm becomes an individual controller. Swaying your left arm from side to side or up and down controls movement and jumping. Conversely, moving your right upper limb allows for quick targeting of up to six enemies (after all, it is a six shooter.) Once the foes are in your sights, just shake your right hand from shoulder to side to shoot. It’s a simple set of mechanics which feels right after the brief learning curve reaches its conclusion.
Most of the time, those aforementioned control mechanics work quite well, though I did have some occasional issues. Sometimes, it seemed like there was a bit of delay when I’d go to shoot. Other times, the left arm on-screen movement response would tend to be a bit sluggish. The latter was noticeable most during some side-scrolling sections, where there happened to be a bit of slowdown and delay with each jump I’d attempt to perform. It was evident while watching the action unfold on-screen, but the jumps actually went through quite well. The other issues were a tad more obtrusive and somewhat annoying, but they never became overly aggravating or too problematic.
Generally, the game controlled quite well, other than the odd (minor) hiccup. Sure, it was a tad annoying when things didn’t always register perfectly, but that’s where the motion control technology is these days. I went in expecting a game which would be fun and quite polished, but not perfect and that’s what The Gunstringer delivered. Despite those control registration flaws, I was quite impressed with what the development team was able to do with Kinect. It’s quick, responsive and quite good at tracking for the most part. Plus, the hands-free interaction scheme is accessible and user-friendly while maintaining a hint of challenge and complexity for more seasoned gamers.
Two players can take up arms at once, though only one can control the skeletal marionette. The accomplice is relegated to being a triggerman or woman, with only a crosshair to control. It adds an extra set of bullets to the corral, working quite well without any issues. Friends may become grumpy arguers if proper teamwork is not employed, but that’s what it’s like in any co-operative game. Just make sure the person in control of the strings is familiar with the game, or else a couple lives may be lost during their growing pains process.
Popping The Gunstringer into your XBOX 360 means that you’re in for a wild ride. If creativity was equated by the level of a lake, its accompanying body of water would be flooding over. What was originally touted as an innovative on-rails motion shooter is so much more, changing things up quite often to keep gamers wondering what could be around the next corner.
Its four main acts are complemented by a prologue and an epilogue, with all combining to hit the several hour longevity mark. There’s quite a bit of content to be found on this game disc, especially considering the title was originally talked about as a downloadable affair. Add in the free downloadable content pack which is available now and there’s another hour to be shot up. Though, we’ll get to that a bit later.
Although there are some evident faults, the immense amount of innovative creativity found inside of this game outshines its rough spots. I was most impressed by how offbeat and quirky things were, with camera angles, gameplay mechanics and presentation styles changing on a level-by-level basis. One level would consist of riding a horse while shooting everything in sight.
Then, the next stage would switch to a two-dimensional viewpoint forcing the player to jump and traverse over obstacles, punching their way through baddies. Running into something means a loss of a heart, so it’s key to avoid everything you can. Extra creative infusions come in the form of on-rails segments where our hero rides on a rocket, steers a gigantic boat through obstacles and slices some ninjas with a samurai sword.
Unfortunately, the included set of several boss fights is less than stellar. The characters themselves are very creative, taking on the stylings of a creatures such as a human oil baron, a demon-like voodoo priestess, a voluptuous lady of the night and a gigantic inflatable tube man. Yes, you read the last one right.
The latter one on the list is the most unique because it employs cover-based mechanics in an open area (something which occurs quite often in the core game.) All of the other battles utilize the same format, pitting the two combatants on the same stage with a two-dimensional viewpoint. Players must avoid oncoming attacks, waiting for the opportunity to shoot or slam their way through the boss’ heart supply.
Positive mission performances unlock metallic awards in the form of bronze, silver and gold badges. These combine with an overall score to add funds to an in-game back account, for use in purchasing some of the overwhelming amount of included extra content. There’s tons of concept art, behind-the-scenes photos, video footage, cheats (no fail mode, ghost mode, etc.) and commentary tracks from Twisted Pixel‘s friends. Those who love unlocking all pieces of extra content in every game that they play will have a lot of hours on their plate with this one. It’ll take at least several playthroughs to purchase everything.
Rounding out the package is the free Wavy Tube Man Chronicles DLC; a live-action b-movie with interactive elements. Created in tandem with Lloyd Kauffman and his Troma Films brand, the moving picture is full of lewd content and terrible performances. It tells another story of revenge, as the Wavy Tube Man’s son plots time travelling revenge against The Gunstringer for killing his poppa. Players spend time watching the video progress, quickly firing at any evildoer who threatens any harm. Shooting an innocent bystander, barkeep or hero will mean an instant game over.
Honestly, this added mode is nothing special, lasting only forty-five minutes to an hour. Though, since it’s completely free, there’s no reason to complain. I just wish the controls were tuned a bit better because any little movement sends a bullet to the on-screen character’s torso, head or limbs. The only other major issue I discovered was an audio glitch which made the sound of repeated gunfire continually reverberate until I quit out and restarted the option.
In terms of presentation, The Gunstringer is one of a kind. The team at Twisted Pixel did a great job making it an experience all its own, unlike anything else out there. Over-the-top content and visual flair combine with a real-life crowd which interacts according to the player’s success and occasional failures. Sometimes a digital backdrop will be employed, though the crowd becomes the background on occasion.
They’re cut to quite often, showing over-acted shock, surprise, laughter and/or celebration depending on the event. I feel that this style fit in very well with the game’s premise and content, delivering a cool ride. Its accompanying visuals are pretty solid with some crazy character designs, though they won’t blow you away. There’s a lot of colour and variety, which helps to hide the rough edges and blemishes.
The camera is pretty good, being that most of the action is on-rails, moving as it’s supposed to without any problems. However, there are times where the camera reverses itself, creating a multitude of chase sequences. These run for your life moments have players fleeing from boulders, snakes, cannonballs and the like. It’s these segments which presented a bit of a problem due to viewpoint depth. It was occasionally too close, preventing me from being able to see the jumps and obstacles ahead before it was too late. This resulted in a couple of falls and some lost heart pieces.
Other than zinging bullets, TNT barrels exploding and destroyed woodwork, the narrator is the most prevalent auditory facet to be found here. He’s key to the entire experience, explaining the occurred events and upcoming travels with gruff pipes which fit like a glove. Without the narrator and the amazing job he does, this game would certainly not be the same. Its accompanying sound effects are solid but repetitive. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also give credit to the score composers who did a commendable job creating a variety of different tracks which go along well with the entire creative ride. Look forward to a lot of acoustic guitar and some upbeat tempos.
It’s easy to recommend this game as a creative and entertaining overall experience; not just as an enjoyable game. Though it’s a tad rough around the edges, The Gunstringer is a quality outing and one of the standouts on the fledgling Kinect device. Those who are looking for something to play using their expensive motion detecting sensor should certainly give it a shot.
Looking back over the available library thus far, this is one release which certainly stands out. Some control inconsistencies and other minor flaws combine to unfortunately keep it from being as good as it could have been. Though, with all that being considered, there’s still an above-average game here.
Some may be scared off by the idea that The Gunstringer was formerly a downloadable title. Those worries are warranted, but there’s still a decent amount of content to be found. The campaign can be bested in an afternoon, but it’s fun, creative and offbeat despite some inconsistencies. Count the hour-long piece of strange and zany free extra content as well as the included download voucher for Fruit Ninja Kinect (another solid title) and you’re getting pretty good value for your hard earned dollars.
Don’t let this innovative revenge story pass you by, because we all know how much gamers like to complain about a lack of creativity in retail releases these days. Trust me when I say that you’ve never played anything like this before. Although this marionette’s strings may have a couple of nuisance-based kinks and knots, they’re worth working around.
This review is based on a copy which we received for review purposes.
Fun, unique and innovative are three words which can be best used to describe The Gunstringer. It has a pretty solid amount of content too, and for a decent price.