Review: The Gunstringer (Microsoft Xbox 360)

The Gunstringer
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Twisted Pixel Games
Genre: Action/Motion Gaming
Release Date: 09/13/2011

Now that we are a year removed from the launch of Kinect, it’s a bit disappointing to see the platform’s potential muddled in a sea of Wii-styled titles. Although I’ve experienced a handful of interesting titles, nothing really tapped the true potential of the camera, voice recognition and scanning abilities of the Kinect. The Gunstringer still doesn’t quite hit this high note, but, thankfully, it’s a Kinect exclusive that actually does the experience right.

The Gunstringer plays off the western stereotypes everyone has come to know – the protagonist has been wronged and he is out for revenge against hoodlums, shifty property owners, a brothel owner and more. Where The Gunstringer takes the concept further, though, is in taking the theme of the marionette and applying it to an actual theater surrounding. All of the gameplay in the title is an act by act play complete with a full motion video crowd that provides goofy, smile-inducing reactions to the play. The campiness matches the western theme well and the crowd gives off those “Ëœ90s-style FMV game vibes. When you mix in Twisted Pixel’s personal touch of humor, while the story won’t win any awards, what you do get is an entertaining action romp full of slapstick.

Even though the vivid cartoon-style visuals and appropriate soundtrack hold up on their own, the audience lends itself heavily to the presentation as well. The full motion video is crisp and fluid (as expected on current systems) and when appropriate, the audience will boo a villain when he makes an appearance and cheer when The Gunstringer inches closer to his revenge. Of course, you can’t have a classic western without a grisly cowboy narrator, which this title does in fact have in tow. Overall, while it doesn’t push the system to its limits, The Gunstringer has the obvious Twisted Pixel touch to it, and this is reflected in the goofy, yet strong presentation of the title.

The Gunstringer makes quite an original use out of the Kinect camera and, thankfully, the development kept seated gamers in mind. The player controls The Gunstringer with one hand positioned as if he or she was actually holding and moving a puppet. In most cases, the other hand acts as a firearm, sweeping the screen to lock-on to enemies, much like in Ubisoft’s Child of Eden, and then popping the hand back to shoot bullets as if the gun was recoiling in the player’s hand.

Assuming players have ideal room conditions for Kinect game play, The Gunstringer works quite well while standing or seated and I had only a few issues in getting the game to recognize quick movements where I was pulling the puppet up to jump or firing the gun. In an attempt to switch up the gameplay, certain points of the levels will allow The Gunstringer to go double barrel or drop his gun to go fist-to-fist with enemies. This changes up the control scheme slightly, but the new commands mimic the actions and should come naturally (the tutorials help out as well). Again, I did have a snag or two in these modes, such as when the Kinect somehow made my left hand control The Gunstringer’s right hand and vice versa during a double barrel scene, but, overall, the frequent gameplay style switches keep the levels fairly fresh.

With that aside, though, it should be noted the game can get a bit repetitive in the long run and, at face value, the game isn’t very long at all. It is fairly apt to compare the title to Child of Eden again, since The Gunstringer will last players just as long in the initial playthrough. With tacos to add to the player’s multiplayer and different combos to work toward, the ultimate goal is in scoring as high as possible and revisiting levels in order to do so. Thankfully, there are a score of unlockables that range from your typical gallery items to game modifiers that really shake up the gameplay. Coming back to pick these up are actually rewarding, but, again, you must be willing to tackle the main game multiple times in order to see most of these.

Still, The Gunstringer is worth at least one experience in order to soak up some truly original usage of the Kinect in action gameplay as well as Twisted Pixel’s trademark humor. If you aren’t turned off by the premise, you’ll very likely want to play through the game in one sitting and the charm of the title is hard to ignore. Even so, The Gunstringer still doesn’t come across as the killer, must-have title for the Kinect, but it is still one of the better titles on the platform. Also, when you consider the full package gives you a free game add-on and a download for Fruit Ninja, it’s hard to deny the overall value of the retail purchase.

The Scores
Story: GOOD
Graphics: VERY GOOD
Sound: GREAT
Control and Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: ENJOYABLE
Balance: VERY GOOD
Originality: VERY GOOD
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal Factor: INCREDIBLE
Miscellaneous: GREAT

Short Attention Span Summary

For gamers looking for something different and full of action on the Kinect accessory, The Gunstringer is the closest title released on the platform to fitting the bill. There is a ton of humor and style thanks to the involvement of Twisted Pixel and the nature of the game and its controls make it easy to get involved in the game. The major downside players will have to consider, though, is the short length of the game and the chore of replaying multiple levels to accumulate the cash to score the admittedly great unlockables. If you’re the type of player that likes to tackle leaderboards and best your own scores, The Gunstringer is a great score attack game, otherwise, a single playthrough will most likely be enough to scratch your Kinect itch.



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