In just two years, Twisted Pixel has managed to release four well-received games. The young studio’s latest venture, The Gunstringer, is their first full retail title, and it’s easily their most ambitious adventure yet. Part platformer and part first person shooter, The Gunstringer is one of the few games aimed at the core market that requires the Kinect sensor. Is it a game for the motion camera to hang its hat on, or an unfortunate misstep for a good developer?
The Gunstringer follows, well, The Gunstringer. He is an undead Wild West hero out for revenge on those who caused his death. There’s not really much more to it than that. The exact nature of The Gunstringer’s demise is never disclosed, nor is his real name. All you know is that his former posse was responsible, and he’s out to take his just revenge. The twist is all of this is played out as a stage play, and The Gunstringer is a marionette. The story is cute, ridiculous, and humorous. It generally succeeds in being entertaining, though sometimes the attempts at over-the-top humor fall a bit flat.
Players control The Gunstringer entirely through Kinect. Throughout most of the game, one hand is held out as if lifting a marionette, while the other acts as a gun. Movement is on-rails, so your movement hand can only move left, right, or jump. Most of the time this is to avoid obstacles or do simple platforming, but occasionally it also acts as a cover shooter, and you move the hand to exit cover to the left or right and fire on your opponents. The right hand locks on as you pass the crosshair over enemies, and then fires when you bring your hand to your wrist as if experiencing recoil.
Other gameplay sequences are pure platforming, and involve The Gunstringer running left to right or away from obstacles, jumping and dodging to avoid damage. There are also sequences where both of your hands become guns, and you fire on many assaulting enemies bullet hell style. You’ll even punch and slash on occasion in short melee segments, knocking enemies away with your fists and slicing them up with a sword. There isn’t a ton of variety in the gameplay, but what’s here works well, and it’s plenty challenging when you activate hardcore mode, which greatly increases the damage you take.
In general, the gameplay is smooth. Controls are responsive and accurate enough to play through without blaming them for mistakes made, with one exception. The game claims it is made to be played standing and sitting, but my experience while sitting was inconsistent at best. The Gunstringer requires a wide range of motion to aim and move, and when sitting down this means you have to put your hands below your knees at times to aim low. This wouldn’t be a problem in itself, but the Kinect sensor seems to become confused when you do. Kinect lost me multiple times from both a chair and a couch when I played sitting down, and accuracy of the controls dropped down significantly. It was still playable, but not nearly as enjoyable.
On a technical level, The Gunstringer fails to impress. Everything is simple and plain, and the textures are dull. Some of this simplicity comes from the game’s art direction, however. It’s designed to look “fake,” like props from a play, and the cute patchwork designs are fun and unique. There’s a solid variety of environments as well, and each of the four main plays takes you through a very different locale. The audio unfortunately doesn’t fair as well. Voice acting and narration are enjoyable, but the music is not. It’s appropriate for the Wild West style, but it gets repetitive fast.
The Gunstringer follows the length standards of Twisted Pixel’s previous games. It takes about two and a half hours to clear the main story, which would be fine for a $15 downloadable title, but isn’t acceptable for a $40 game. Microsoft and Twisted Pixel have done two things to try to alleviate this. They have included Fruit Ninja Kinect for free, and a day one DLC episode called The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles. The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles is an entertaining 30 minute or so romp shooting through a live action shooting range game. It’s suitably cheesy and ridiculous, and it does add a decent chunk of value to the overall package.
There are a number of unlockables such as skins and audio commentary from Rooster Teeth. You can also try for high scores, but the replay just isn’t as interesting. Local co-op is available, but it’s just drop in during the same storyline, and adds no length to the game. Unfortunately, even with all of this, The Gunstringer feels like it was built to be downloadable and bumped up to retail. If it had been a downloadable title it would have stood alone at $15 just fine, but for $40, even taking into account the extras, it’s short on value.
While there are a plethora of on-rails titles out and releasing for Kinect, The Gunstringer stands out as an enjoyable game with a unique art design. As long as you play while standing it’s one of Kinect’s better core gaming experiences. Unfortunately, it’s held back by the price, lack of content, and a few presentation issues when sitting down. Core Kinect gamers may want to pick this one up to tide them over.