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Jeremy Jastrzab
29 Sep, 2011

The Gunstringer Review

360 Review | It's good. We're not stringing you along...
After several successful Xbox Live Arcade releases, including The Maw, ’Splosion Man and Ms. Splosion Man, Twisted Pixel Games has tried their hand at releasing a Kinect enabled titled, that doubles as a full retail release. But The Gunstringer isn’t just another title looking to cash in on the initial wave of success from Kinect. Making use of a quirky and unique setting with a great sense of humour, as well as live action footage and the controller-free gameplay of Kinect, The Gunstringer is amongst the most interesting new titles of the year. And that’s despite starting off life as a downloadable title.

The Gunstringer has some very neat ideas and provides some of the most vibrant personality seen in recent titles, though it doesn’t quite shake off the downloadable origins. The setting is actually quite refreshing, as it starts off with live action footage of people entering a theatre, to watch a puppet show. Seamlessly, the game switches to the marionette of an undead sheriff looking to take revenge on his old posse. Steeped in excellent use of Old West clichés, the game will cover just about everything that you’ve ever seen from a Western, in a slapstick and light-hearted manner. Past titles from Twisted Pixel Games have been known for their humour, and The Gunstringer is no exception.

Westerns and explosions. So cliché.

Westerns and explosions. So cliché.
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There isn’t much to the story itself – just flat out revenge with some… gratuitous moments in between. But what makes it endearing and enjoyable is the irreverent and humorous manner with which Old West clichés are tackled, as well as the involvement of the live action audience. To really help give that feeling that you’re pretty much playing through a puppet show, there are many a moment where the game cuts to reactions from the audience, which are incredibly well implemented. Furthermore, The Gunstringer implements the concept of a dynamic narrator, as seen in Bastion. He does get a bit repetitive after a while, but from the two games that use this narration style, you can see this catching on.

The aesthetics of the game have all been built with the setting of a puppet theatre in mind, and are married to the live action sequences without a hitch. Everything is cleverly built so that everything looks like an object creating a makeshift environment, so for example, paper towel rolls and cardboard cut-outs that make up trees. Furthermore, Twisted Pixel’s propriety engine, Beard, is a superb piece of technology. While Kinect games are not known for being system pushers, The Gunstringer definitely makes good use of it, with excellent effects all round. But the most striking thing about the colour, vibrancy, animation and presentation is just how smooth it all runs. The narrator provides a great atmosphere for this soap western, though he does get a bit repetitive, while the sound composition suits each of the different ‘Western’ locales very well. They might as well have been a part of any one of dozens of Spaghetti Western films.

As a Kinect only title, The Gunstringer makes some smart choices for controlling your undead marionette. The game plays like a rail shooter, where you’re mainly running and gunning down everything in your path, with the occasional gameplay diversion thrown in for variety. While Child of Eden proved that rail shooters are definitely possible with Kinect, The Gunstringer tries to take things a little further by expanding the range of actions. And to do so, the game makes use of an ambitious but successful control scheme. Your gun is controlled by your right hand, while your left hand will control some limited movement possibilities. After all, above the Gunstringer is a marionette control bar, so your left hand is essentially holding this.

Boss battle: who can sleep the longest.

Boss battle: who can sleep the longest.
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As standard fare, your gun can lock on up to a maximum of six targets, with your right hand out like John Wayne. Once you’ve locked onto all of your targets, motion by lifting your hand at the elbow (simulating shot recoil) to send off up to six deadly shots. Your left hand movement will be utilised in a variety of ways, mainly to move left and right to avoid bullets and obstacles, as well as jumping gaps with a firm upward motion. The game quite cleverly uses this to implement playing from cover too. While these are the staple movements, you’ll also be required to occasionally get into fisticuffs with punching motions, dual-wield with automatic rapid fire, use other weapons, do some light platforming and even take on the unique boss battle patterns.

The developers have tried very hard to implement as much variety into the game as possible. And it actually is quite appreciated, as it would be otherwise easy to dismiss the game as a one-trick pony. Divided into four plays, each consisting of five acts, many of the acts will take you on a wild ride through a variety of situations, possibly starting with some shooting from cover, going through some platforms, avoiding falling projectiles to a dual wielding rail sequence. Despite this though, it occasionally feels like the developers were a little too desperate to increase the length of the game. At the end of the day the variety is still limited, often forced with the amount of hand-holding for certain prompts and the pacing can be affected. In particular, some of the platforming sequences can drag down the pace of play and feel redundant.

Kinect gameplay is a rather fickle beast as well. Despite the best efforts of the development team, it is clear that The Gunstringer is the kind of game that you’ll get through barely raising a sweat but have a lot of difficulty trying to become proficient at it. The two-handed control scheme is rather ambitious, and while it does work, the system does get confused between the two hands occasionally. Furthermore, the main challenges come from trying to be precise in your movements, which makes getting through some of the faster paced obstacles frustrating. The difficulty level is somewhat strange too, as you can finish the game quite easily but it will affect your final level scores and your main issues will come from control idiosyncrasies and picky hit detection rather than challenges in the gameplay.

I've been hit!

I've been hit!
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Speaking of finishing, the story for The Gunstringer can be completed in around four hours. However, this is a pretty standard length for the genre, and the game does provide some decent incentives to keep playing. Your scores for each level all accumulate to provide currency for buying in game extras, including game modifiers, the much harder ‘hardcore’ mode and a lot of behind-the-scenes material. To top it off, the retail game comes packed with the first set of DLC, the XBLA game Fruit Ninja and it only costs around half of a normal retail game. Rail shooters are meant for several playthroughs and high-score runs in any case, but even a once through with The Gunstringer is quite entertaining.

Along with Child of Eden before it, The Gunstringer does a lot to trumpet the potential for Kinect. It goes further to appeal to a greater audience, what with more varied involvement of the control system and a more relatable and palatable presentation. Western parodies are nothing new, but the way that The Gunstringer has been presented makes it a whole lot of fun and it gives the game a unique flavour. Furthermore, it’s all infused with a trademark sense of humour and a brilliant game engine. For all this though, the game does show signs of artificial attempts at lengthening, a rather ham-fisted approach to pacing and variety, and that Kinect control options still don’t quite have the precision and control that you’d like. In any case, The Gunstringer should be on the list for anyone looking for a proper game to show off the potential of Kinect.
The Score
The Gunstringer not only shows off great potential for Kinect, it shows off the possibilities of a little bit of creativity added to the presentation. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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7 Comments
2 years ago
loved the demo of this, can't wait to pick up the full deal.
2 years ago
Fun game, bought it right away to support more developement into the Kinetic.
Wish more games came out at $50 or less. Also it comes with the first addon and a free arcade game ***here's glaring at you activision/EA and co***

Each level is harder then the last. The game doesnt always pick up your "shooting hand action".So you get angry waving your hand around and missing. Just take a breat and do the movement slower.
Some of the jumping sections seemed unfair and had me swearing, but there's normaly a life refill right after. I didnt try 2 player yet.
2 years ago
28 bucks at harvey norman, and includes fruit ninja which is 13 bucks alone. Steal buy it now
2 years ago
Very pleased to hear this is good! Will have to pick this up sometime for sure.
2 years ago
Good to see the Kinect getting some quality support!
2 years ago
only bit i didnt like was the audience... but for 28 buks, ill forgive that
2 years ago
This game actually makes me want to get a Kinect now.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  15/09/2011 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Microsoft
Year Made:
  2011

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