September 15, 2011
Those guys and gals at Twisted Pixel are some smart cookies. That's immediately apparent from the moment you start playing The Gunstringer, which like the rest of the developer's output to date is utterly unique and entertaining. A bizarre hybrid of live action and in-game graphics, The Gunstringer is a virtual puppet show that takes place on a creaky old theatre stage, with levels divided into plays, which in turn are divided into short, bite-sized acts. It's a novel concept that works incredibly well, possessing a blend of nicely varied gameplay and riotous humour.
It's a set-up that will appeal to both the casual and hardcore Kinect-owning audiences out there, with quick and brilliantly simple levels that can be fiendishly challenging, but never too difficult. For those looking for a sterner challenge, you can unlock a hardcore mode that comes with a warning, being only for players who “hate themselves”. And it is bloody hardcore too, with enemies reloading and firing at you faster, more hazards to dodge and twice as much health chipped away with each hit you take. Thankfully, the mechanics of the game are streamlined and responsive enough to ensure that playing the game is always a pleasure.
The Gunstringer simply requires that you use your left hand to manipulate the strings of the titular marionette, lifting your hand to jump and moving it left to right to move, while the Gunstringer himself runs forward automatically. Your right arm then serves as your gun, which you point at the screen, dragging the reticule over enemies to mark them, before pulling your forearm back to fire. The controls are obviously reversed for 'lefty mode', and the game mixes things up at regular intervals to keep you on your toes. Picking up burritos for instance will initiate killstreaks, which multiply your score, translating into better medals and more cash at the end of each act to then spend in the bonus store.
Here you can buy modifiers that encourage loads of replay value, with the aforementioned hardcore mode joined by fun additions like the Meatstringer (The Gunstringer's human form), sepia, invisibility and a host of others, including commentaries, concept art and all that jazz. It's a good thing that there's replay value too, as the story is pretty short and can be beaten in about five hours or so. You'll want to go back and do each of the four plays all over again though, experiencing the story of how the Gunstringer exacts his revenge against the band of misfits who double-crossed him back in the day, multiple times to bag all of the gold medals and enough cash to clear out the bonus store.
The Gunstringer is a great game to dip in and out of, and with drop-in/drop-out co-op, you can play through the game with a friend if you like, although it has to be said, this component doesn't work all that well. Once again, Kinect occasionally throws little tantrums when there's too many limbs being thrown around, and player one gets to do all of the movement bits, leaving the second player simply controlling their own blue firing reticule. It's not the best it could have been, and would have worked far better had player two been given their own Gunstringer avatar to control.
Still, The Gunstringer has bags of that trademark Twisted Pixel charm, with an endearing game world constructed from everyday objects like soda cans, string, pins, patchwork fabrics, cardboard and other bric-a-brac, bringing to mind the makeshift environments of Rango or LittleBigPlanet. Mix that with the live-action audience clapping and cheering, or booing when you take damage with weird cutaways of their reactions, and you have a Kinect game that is both unique and brilliantly quirky.
You can play it sitting down too, although when we tried doing so, Kinect detected the arms of our sofa chair registering them as a pair of extra appendages, so we stuck with the standing up method of play, which is still fine. As long as you have a chair with small arms – or better still, a stool – then we imagine playing The Gunstringer sat down will be just fine though. We must also draw your attention to a new infliction we discovered while playing, that we've called 'Gunstringer elbow'. To shoot, you have to keep you arm bent, jerking it back as if experiencing recoil to fire and after repeatedly executing the same action for sustained periods of time, you might need physiotherapy to set you right. We're exaggerating of course, but we did have a nagging pain in our right elbow for the whole day after completing the game.
This is a side effect of the constantly changing gameplay, keeping things fresh with side-scrolling platform sections, horse-riding set-pieces, navigating various vehicles like a paddle steamer, switching up weapons from the six-shooter to flamethrowers, shotguns and even a broadsword perfect for carving marauding ninjas asunder. There's loads to do in The Gunstringer, and the game always knows when to throw something different into the mix as and when it's needed. It's all great fun too.
Once you've finished with the story, you'll have probably managed to attain about 600-odd Gamerscore, as The Gunstringer is pretty generous with the achievements, giving you one after each of the game's 20 acts and awarding cheevos for completing certain objectives within certain acts, like killing so many enemies while flying over the Great Wall of China on a bottle rocket. There's a mix of nice and easy achievements, and some incredibly tough ones too, the hardest being the task of completing the game in a single session on hardcore mode, without dying. For that one, you really will need 'Strings of Steel.'
Despite the odd Kinect-based tic, The Gunstringer is a fantastic game, packed to the gills with genuine belly laughs, some clever gameplay mechanics and a whole raft of bonuses, providing adequate impetus to return and earn gold medals and high scores. It's a great laugh, and as a budget title, The Gunstringer is an absolute must. That it's one of the best Kinect games money can buy is also par for the course. So, go get it varmint! You get Fruit Ninja Kinect in the box too!
A great spaghetti western-style soundtrack and awesome narration make for the perfect aural package. Spot on.
The Gunstringer looks great, and is undoubtedly the best-looking game Twisted Pixel has made to date. The makeshift environments give the game world a tangible, tactile look that we love too.
All kinds of fun to play, The Gunstringer is a laugh from start to finish. Comprised primarily of jumping and shooting, there's always something else to do in the game, keeping things fresh when it's required.
The story is a little too brief, but you'll definitely stick around for multiple playthroughs to gain gold medals and more cash to blow at the bonus store, where you'll find a slew of additional content. You can see why Twisted Pixel decided to make this a retail release, and for the price, it's good value for money. You also get Fruit Ninja Kinect as a neat extra.
The Gunstringer is mighty generous with its achievements, giving you an easy 600+ Gamerscore for simply romping your way through the story. Going to the bonus store and replaying the game will bag you the other cheevos, but there are some hard as nails ones on the list, that'll take some effort.
Another triumph for Twisted Pixel, The Gunstringer is not just a worthy addition to the stable of games for Kinect, it's quite possibly one of the best games you can buy for the device. A healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek humour and varied gameplay make this a must have for every Kinect owner out there.