Game Rant’s Jeff Schille reviews The Gunstringer
Twisted Pixel’s The Gunstringer is the latest attempt to move Kinect gaming beyond the confines of the casual market and into the living-rooms of hardcore gamers.
But does this amalgam of rail-based shooter and platformer hit its target squarely, or could it use a bit more time at the shooting range? Keep reading for our full review of The Gunstringer.
The Gunstringer uses a straightforward tale of revenge as a frame for its surreal journey through the Old West and on to the depths of the Underworld. Betrayed and murdered by the six members of his former posse, the Gunstringer sets out to bring justice to them all. Of course, this being a Twisted Pixel game, there is a little more to it than that.
The game is depicted as a staged marionette performance in front of a live audience that reacts to onscreen events, cheering or booing the Gunstringer’s actions. Though it can be a bit heavy on the full motion video, the concept pays off handsomely by the end of the game.
As with Twisted Pixel’s other games (Ms. ‘Splosion Man, Comic Jumper), The Gunstringer’s greatest strength is its personality. No opportunity for a sly joke is missed, and the game comes well stocked with endearingly loopy enemy descriptions (The Miner. Likes: mining. Dislikes: fisticuffs, Phish), video game references (a billboard reveals that Big Oil’s slogan is “All Your Oil Are Belong To Us”), and many, many cutaways to hyperbolic audience reactions.
The Gunstringer himself is a fantastic character, The Man With No Name done up in Day-Glo Dia de los Muertos finery. His jaw may wobble when he runs, but this skeleton cowboy marionette means business. Usually armed with just his trusty six-shooter, the Gunstringer also knows how to handle a shotgun, a flame thrower, a katana, and his own bony fists.
A vibrant, colorful game, The Gunstringer especially benefits from its fantastic soundtrack. The score encompasses everything from flamenco guitar to psychedelic Tex-Mex garage rock, and there is even an appropriately epic ballad for the game’s closing credits.
Both the best and worst aspects of The Gunstringer’s gameplay are directly related to the uneven performance of its Kinect interface. Though control failings never entirely sap the fun from The Gunstringer, players may occasionally long for the precision of a standard control scheme.
At its best, The Gunstringer exploits a Panzer Dragoon/Child of Eden-like mechanic of “painting” targets before unloading on them – one that works consistently well and is especially fun (check out our PAX East Gunstringer preview for a detailed account of the game’s control scheme). The shooting mechanic is clearly the hook of the game, and one wonders if, once upon a time when The Gunstringer was destined for Xbox Live Arcade, it originally made up a larger portion of the playtime.
Also good: the Gunstringer often takes cover while shooting, and players must lean out from behind a rock, building, etc. (using their left hand) before firing. As often as not, this involves crossing arms over the body, which (though not always comfortable for the player) Kinect manages to track reliably.
On the other hand, sections of the game in which the Gunstringer double wields never work quite right. Given the Gunstringer’s powered up state, these sections should be much more fun than they are. Despite color coding the reticules (red for right, blue for left), the action is tough to manage as the sights cross over one another unexpectedly, making precision aiming literally a hit and miss affair.
The game is roughly divided into shooting and traversal sections, and while shooting remains great fun throughout, the traversal sections drag. They barely involve the player, and serve little purpose beyond padding out the game’s still short playtime. While jumping works reliably, simply moving left or right on screen can be uncomfortably imprecise. It is often difficult to maneuver the Gunstringer around environmental hazards (cactus, wooden boxes, endless giant rolling boulders) or over narrow paths. Thankfully, the game doesn’t severely punish players for crashing into objects or plummeting into the abyss.
There’s also plenty of bonus content in the title. There are a wealth of items to purchase in the game’s Bonus Store (skins for the Gunstringer, commentary tracks, game modifiers, pictures of the Gunstringer hanging out with Microsoft luminaries, and lots more), but Kinect makes selecting a single item a chore. Thankfully, there is a helpful Bulk Buy button at the top of the page that simply purchases as much content as the player can afford.
Despite these problems, The Gunstringer emerges as one of the most entertaining Kinect games yet. This is largely due to the extremely wise decision on the part of Twisted Pixel never to make things too hard. Though there are undeniably control issues, they never impede progress though the game. Even boss encounters can be continued mid-battle should players perish in the heat of combat.
Packaged with a voucher for the full version of Fruit Ninja Kinect, and already the recipient of free DLC (The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles) The Gunstringer represents a fair value for its $39.99 price point. Though a playthrough could be completed in under four hours, there is ample reason to revisit the game, including medals to earn and all the aforementioned bonus content.
A lot rides on how much players connect with The Gunstringer’s uniquely surreal humor. The game plays well enough, barely, and has a distinct look, but it is the dense, meta wit of the experience that pushes it over the top. It may not be for everyone, but those who like The Gunstringer are apt to like it a lot, and curious players are encouraged to give the game a try.
The Gunstringer is available now for the Xbox 360 with Kinect.
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