The Gunstringer: review

 

  • Format: Xbox 360 (Kinect)
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
  • Developer: Twisted Pixel
  • Players: 1-2 (offline co-op)
  • Site: http://www.thegunstringer.com/

It’s no secret that the Kinect’s stock of games is a regular ghost town, a mournful wind whistling through the dusty bones of fitness trainers and mini-game collections, and The Gunstringer is stepping up as a new sheriff to lay down the law. It’s too bad that (similar to the dim-witted, drunken lawman who can’t quite shoot straight) this game is welcomed largely because it’s the only thing we’ve got.

The story kicks off with a live-action video of the Twisted Pixel crew dashing about to prepare a puppet show that features the skeletal cowboy himself. This sets the stage (that’s a pun) for the game’s greatest asset: an entirely goofy yet clever premise. Raising your left hand pulls the Gunstringer up by his strings to start the play and pointing your right hand at the screen serves as your gun (and yes, it does help to shape it into a pistol). It’s a smart way to add context to the peculiar flailing you’ll be doing.

The Gunstringer does not like snakes. This much is clear.

The Gunstringer will charge forward along a predefined path as you dance him to and fro with your left hand, your right hand blowing away enemies that both root and toot at every turn. Dodging bullets (quite literally) and hopping over sturdy bits of terrain is delegated to your left hand, though your direct control over the undead marionette is limited. You can paint up to six targets at once (not unlike Red Dead Redemption’s deadeye mode) and take them out by snapping your arm up, which is a surprisingly natural motion. Those of a left-handed nature will be glad to know that the developers are well aware your condition (coined “lefthandedness” in the options screen) and they give their deepest sympathies. The motions don’t always register perfectly, but such is to be expected of technology as floaty as the Kinect.

Of course, a variety of wacky circumstances will arise through the four multi-tiered levels, and you’ll find yourself ducking behind cover to take potshots at outlaws, riding atop a train and using two firearms to rain terror down upon your enemies, and sailing a riverboat through a distinctively perilous bayou. Some sequences are a blast, such as the precisely-controlled boss fights, while others perform with all the elegance of a two-legged mongoose, most notably the mind-numbing sword fighting sections. The controls are generally respectable and the game does an admirable job of keeping you on your toes, but it basically boils down to the inevitable on-rails shooter that we all saw coming from the Kinect’s launch.

These boss fights are among the best moments from The Gunstringer.

It’s the presentation– the bizarre blurring of lines between reality and imagination– that helps The Gunstringer stand out. Most of the game takes place in a wild west world of puppets and cardboard tube trees, but there are times when the curtain is pulled back (just look at these puns!) to show a live-action audience cheering for the animated puppet on stage. These moments are brilliantly ridiculous (the ending most of all) and work out much better than the other attempts at humour, which range from stupid-but-amusing to no-holds-barred-straight-up-stupid. The gravelly voice that unfolds every step of the Gunstringer’s plot of revenge seems especially unnecessary, as it’s impossible to avoid comparisons to the narration of the infinitely superior Bastion. The drawling voice tends to repeat lines that were barely funny the first time, let alone the sixth.

At least you can grumble about tired one-liners with a friend since another player can step into frame at any time to add another reticle to the screen. If he walks away once you accidentally jab him in the eyeball with your imaginary six-shooter, there’s plenty for you to unlock backstage, including a hardcore mode, gameplay modifiers, behind-the-scenes photos and videos, concept art, and music. Navigating these menus is a finicky chore, but spending cash earned from levels is well worth it. Medals are another reason for replay, but there’s a good chance you won’t feel inclined to fight for a gold; the gameplay just doesn’t manage to stay that engaging. Far more interesting is the code for Fruit Ninja Kinect, a delightful downloadable title previously released during 2011’s Summer of Arcade, that comes packed inside new copies of The Gunstringer. A ludicrous piece of DLC composed entirely of FMV known as The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles is also free right off the bat, which is a definite (if shallow) bonus.

Why is The Gunstringer riding on top of a rocket and fighting a fire-breathing dragon? The only reason he does anything: REVENGE.

The Gunstringer is a good effort. It plays fine, the visuals are decent, the soundtrack is fitting, and an undeniable silly streak sometimes redeems the iffy humour. However, once the nifty stocking stuffers are taken out of the picture and the motion controlled novelties are seen for what they are, you’re left with a middling on-rails shooter the leans too heavily on so-so gags. If released as an affordable downloadable title like Twisted Pixel’s other games, The Gunstringer would have some more excuses up its sleeve, but it suffers under the scrutiny of a mid-price retail product. If you’re looking for something to increase your miniscule library of Kinect games, this is a good place to look; just expect more silliness than substance.


 

 

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Written by Stephen K

A lover of video games in general, Stephen will happily play just about any sort of game on just about any sort of system, especially if it's a platformer or an RPG. Except sports games. Sports games are boring.

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