Twisted Pixel is a company known for cramming its games with humour. The Gunstringer is by no means an exception and with great use of the motion sensor, this is the kind of Kinect game I’ve been waiting for.
No time is wasted in getting you started. When you begin you find yourself following a lovely lady into the marionette theatre with “The Gunstringer” adorning the boards above the entrance. Once she finds her seat and sits down, you’re whisked onto the stage to watch the crew setup for your first scene. Think you’re reading a review for a film? Think again. The game is based around a marionette play, starring you as the titular undead protagonist’s puppeteer. Each level is another act in the performance. A real live audience is there to enjoy the show, booing and laughing and cheering at all the right moments. Before you know it, you’ve got the Gunstringer up on his feet and he means business. He is out for revenge against the gang who betrayed him and put him in the ground. Granted this is not the most original of storylines, but redemption comes in the form of very original gang members to hunt down. These range from a Samurai cowboy to a voodoo priestess and a wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man. Clint Eastwood never shot any of those!
The market is now flooded with Kinect games that require you to dance, jump, kick, turn on the spot, stretch and so on. Very mainstream. The controls here, however, are much more intuitive. For the most part, the game is on rails; The Gunstringerwill happily walk forward by himself and your left hand controls his strings. Move your hand left and right to move in those directions or pull up to jump. Your right hand is your gun hand. Wave it over up to six enemies and then flick your hand up once to fire at them, as though you were firing a real gun.
After a while, I found myself getting into the controls so much that my left hand became gripped as though I were actually holding the strings! Once you’ve got the coordination sorted out, moving and shooting become second nature. This is what motion gaming should be all about. Movements should flow from you naturally. Every now and then you will come across areas where the situation requires a change in tactics. This could be a variety of things such as shooting from cover or using two guns, one in each hand. Despite one or two of these areas feeling a little cheap, the change in play is seamless and the controls don’t suffer. It also gives you a chance to rest your left arm for a bit as it may ache from being constantly moving.
As you march along through the levels, your actions and the unfolding story are told by just one man – the narrator. His deep tones echo the spaghetti westerns of old and you are drawn into the tale. The fact that none of the characters ever speak emphasises the need for effective music and visuals which Twisted Pixel provide in spades. The marionette world is a sea of fantastic…..’props’, some of which are controlled by real-world hands that occasionally appear, further enhancing the idea that it’s really just make-believe.
The locations of the levels are varied as you travel through desert, swamps, over mountains and even down to the underworld. The expressions of the puppets are incredibly well thought out and the humour is slapped on nice and thick. Although I didn’t laugh out loud, I certainly found myself being thoroughly entertained by what was going on. The music is reminiscent of every other game based on the Wild West, but this is hardly a bad thing.
With fun gameplay and having found no bugs, I wondered what I could really say about this game that was bad. Then, when I reached the end, it came to me. It’s too short. Even on the harder difficulty settings I struggled to make a play-through last more than an hour to and hour and a half. Since most of the The Gunstringer is on rails, the pace is always being dictated by the game, not the player. Unless, of course, you die lots. If you want to, you can unlock bonus modes to play. An example of one of these is The Ghoststringer, where you play the game with only your hat, gloves and boots visible. Fun for a time but there’s not much more than that to get out of the main game. On the side, you can also unlock developer movies, photos and artwork. These are actually quite entertaining, as once again the developers add their own brand of humour to the mix.
Given the length of the game, you would normally expect such a title to turn up on Xbox Live Arcade. This is not the case. As a full retail product priced at £25-30, The Gunstringer seems a tad overpriced. It does have an ace up its sleeve though – it comes with its first downloadable content package (starring more wavy tube men!) and a code to download Fruit Ninja Kinect. On their own, neither game can justify their respective prices, but in one complete package it starts to make sense. Only those who have already bought Fruit Ninja Kinect are likely to feel cheated.
With The Gunslinger, Twisted Pixel have delivered a simple, fun and inventive experience. Their trademark slapstick shines throughout and you’ll be convinced you really are controlling a little man on strings, and his gun. The shortcomings in length and price are displaced with the bonus inclusions of DLC and Fruit Ninja, so, all in all, I consider The Gunstringer to be up there with the likes of ‘Splosion Man and Comic Jumper in Twisted Pixel’s increasingly impressive list of releases.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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