In its relatively short history, motion controlled interactive entertainment has earned a reputation among many traditional gamers as being largely without personality and designed for an unspecified lowest common denominator. The Gunstringer, designed exclusively for Xbox 360 Kinect by Twisted Pixel Games—the same folks behind the popular ‘Splosion Man series on Xbox Live Arcade—flies in the face of this perception, delivering a colourful, innovative experience defined by its distinctive character, legitimate sense of humour, and willingness to take risks.
For evidence of this we need look no further than its unusual premise, which sees players controlling a cowboy-themed puppet show. The game begins with real, live people (many of whom are likely the game’s developers, one imagines) filing into a posh old theatre and sitting down to enjoy a marionette show. Our titular, skeletal hero is deposited on stage, then covered in dirt alongside a tombstone. The curtain opens, the stage and puppet are magically transformed into computer generated entities, and suddenly we’re in control of the show.
We control our bony protagonist by using our left hand to manipulate his strings, moving him left or right and making him jump. Our right hand is required to “paint” enemies as targets. Then just raise a forearm to make all baddies glowing red eat hot lead belched from our hero’s six-shooter.
The game contains a quintet of chapters composed of several missions each, all wittily narrated by an aging cowboy who tells the tale of our gun-slinging skelaton’s quest for vengeance, with the audience cheering us on—and voicing their disappointment when we make mistakes—in the background. We occasionally catch glimpses of stage hands’ hands as they tap boulders in the environment to set them in motion, rip buildings from the ground, and occasionally come pounding down as fists to flatten enemies. There are moments when it almost feels more like likes some sort of strange interactive performance art show than a game.
Twisted Pixel has done an excellent job of keeping the Kinect-controlled action—which, for a refreshing change, is completely friendly to couch-bound gamers—fresh, seamlessly switching between on-rails shooting sequences, platforming high jinks, and clever boss battles set in spotlights against a stage curtain. We rarely do the same thing for more than a few minutes at a time before moving on to a new scenario.
My only real complaint is that I occasionally experienced frustration controlling the Gunstringer. As amazingly precise as Kinect can be, it sometimes fails to properly interpret our movement (I’ll admit, too, that, caught up in what’s happening on screen, I sometimes fail to perform quite the right gesture). Turns out some actions—such as jumping over a river or maneuvering between stampeding cattle—are simply better geared for a physical button or joystick.
However, the learning curve is low, and the default level of difficulty forgiving. Plus, among the torrent of extras that can be unlocked with the cash we earn at the conclusion of each level (which include all sorts of stuff traditional gamers will love, ranging from commentaries from Rooster Teeth—the folks who make Red vs. Blue—to new game modes) is a no-fail mod that will let even the movement-gaming-challenged work through the complete story without losing their cool.
The Gunstringer ranks as one of only a handful of Kinect games to earn “essential” status for fans of movement-based play. If you want to play with Microsoft’s motion sensor this fall and you’ve already had your fill of Child of Eden , Twisted Pixel’s game is your best bet.
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Twisted Pixel
Publisher: Microsoft Studios