Master of Puppets
For months now, ever since the initial shininess of the Xbox Kinect wore off, Michael and myself have been referring to the device simply as “The Gunstringer Attachment”. In essence, after the potential of its uses had been squandered on mini game collections, exercise games and the latest dance compilations there was nothing left for the Kinect to offer but the latest endeavour from our favorite XBLA developers Twisted Pixel. The Gunstringer has finally ridden into town and leapt from his horse with both barrels blazing. Does it live up to the hype or is this just an overblown arcade title for the Kinect?
The Gunstringer tells the timeless tale of an undead cowboy marionette puppet back from the dead set upon a course to hunt and kill his old gang members in a twisted search for justice. Along the way you’ll deal cold death in six easily re-loaded helpings to hundreds of paper dolls, tinker toy miners, and extremely french Canadian lumberjacks. Twisted Pixel has built an immaculate pedigree of comedic titles on XBLA from the bizarre ‘Splosion Man to the enchanting Ms. ‘Splosion Man and their efforts are not wasted here. The world of The Gunstringer as you can see from the synopsis is extremely colorful. The gang members you hunt down are your everyday run of the mill group of robot oil barons, over the hill but extremely buxom ladies of ill repute, ninja warrior gunslingers, undead zombie priestesses, and inflatable wavy arm tube man. All of the action takes place on stage in front of an FMV audience which is wonderfully acted with over the top reaction shots to the absurdity taking place. While Gunstringer may be much more out there in terms of comedy compared to Twisted Pixels other offerings, it never fails to surprise with quick laughs and absurdist humor.
Hang Em High
The gameplay of Gunstringer is a hybrid of a platformer and a shooter, much like a cross between Crash Bandicoot and Rez. Controls are handled simply with your left hand moving the Gunstringer left and right and pulling up sharply to make him jump. Your right hand controls your firing reticule, sweep it over enemies to highlight them and with a quick upward flick of your hand (preferably shaped like a gun) you will fire upon your enemies. The controls for the most part work really well. It is easy to maneuver the Gunstringer about and never becomes tiring or confusing. The only issues I experienced came from moving to the extreme right side of the screen where my left arm would cross my body, I had issues where the Kinect would lose my arms and cause a hiccup in the controls until I went back to a standing position and resumed play. The game also has sections which are entirely shooting galleries. In these sections you will get to use both hands at the same time as the Gunstringer auto-fires his six shooters at anything that moves. These segments are extremely fun and satisfying as you quickly mow down large swaths of enemies from your very fingertips.
The action takes place on a pre-determined path, with Gunstringer either running straight up and down the screen or horizontally across it. Your job is to make sure he jumps over gaps and obstacles, avoids running into walls, and fires upon enemies before they have a chance to shoot the Gunstringer down. The game on its default settings is a little too easy though. You will easily be able to pass every level without too much difficulty, some of the harder levels may bring you down to 1 health bar, but I didn’t run into any that outright killed me. For the masochist in you there is a Hardcore mode which you can unlock, this will increase the number of enemies and speed up their attack rates as well as double the damage you take. While the normal mode is easy enough for average players to pass, good luck beating the game on Hardcore. While it is nice that everyone who plays Gunstringer should be able to see everything it has to offer, it would’ve been better if there were more difficulty options to present a challenge without going overboard.
The game is comprised of 5 stages and a prologue and epilogue. Each stage corresponds to 1 of the gang members you are hunting down and comes with its own themed levels and enemies. The environments are all interesting to look at, they are constructed out of paper towel rolls, drinking straws, and other such items to keep the puppet show theme rolling. Each episode will take roughly 45 minutes to complete and they each end in a boss battle which unfortunately are all alike. You spend the first part of battle avoiding the bosses attacks and can then fire upon the enemy until you stun them and perform a final kill. I can understand not having much variety in the fights as you are limited by the control scheme with what you can do, but to repeat essentially the same boss fight over and over in a game so rich in character is somewhat of a letdown.
For a Few Dollars More
The only other complaint I can really level against the game are its price and length which basically go hand in hand. The game was originally designed as an XBLA title and it shows. As I mentioned the running time of Gunstringer will net you around 5 or so hours from beginning to end. As the game was switched to a full retail release it comes with a full $40 price tag. If the game were $20 it would be a perfect recommendation to anyone with a Kinect. As it is at $40, this Kinect must have is limited to Twisted Pixel fans right now. The Gunstringer however does try to pack plenty of value into your price. First, all new copies of the game do come with a free code to download Fruit Ninja Kinect, so if you don’t own that game already it may justify the price of the Gunstringer alone. The Gunstringer also comes with a multitude of modifiers to its core gameplay, such as a commentary mode (with developers, as well as guests such as Major Nelson and Rooster Teeth), the aforementioned hardcore difficulty, new character skins and camera filters, along with the smorgasbord of behind the scenes unlockables we’ve come to expect from a Twisted Pixel game. It will take a long time for you to see and unlock everything this game has to offer.
The Gunstringer also came with day one free DLC: The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles. This is a co-development between Twisted Pixel and Troma Studios and it is amazing. It is a full live action shooter in the vein of the classic FMV games like Mad Dog McCree. The game follows a strange gunslinger as he travels through time in order to stop Wavy Tube Man Junior from unleashing a deadly virus in the past to rule the future. It is filled with hammy acting, terrible special effects, and a completely absurd story, everything you could want in an FMV shooter! The DLC will run you another 30 to 45 minutes but is a must play for any Gunstringer fans.
So there you have it, Twisted Pixel has once again outdone itself. As the only true gamers game on the Kinect you owe it to yourself to play through this one if you have the device. While I don’t think you should rush out to get a Kinect specifically for Gunstringer it is the best game available for it. Twisted Pixels humor oozes out of every pore of the game and their touch is evident in every facet. The game, like the rest of their catalogue, has an amazing soundtrack filled with classic western tunes and the usual hilarious original tunes we expect from Chainsaw. While the price is a little high for what is essentially an upgraded XBLA title, they certainly packed in enough extra content to justify it. Gunstringer is one title that Twisted Pixel fans, western fans, and Kinect owners should not miss.