Taking cues from the old spaghetti westerns, modern revenge tales, and marionette puppet shows comes a Kinect game that may surprise gamers. The Gunstringer provides a unique experience with immersive controls, a charming world, and a good sense of humor, but at the same time is hindered by the same laggy controls and short campaign that may leave some gamers feeling like there‘s a snake in their boots.
The Gunstringer takes a unique perspective on the way it is presented. The entire game is contained on a puppet stage. "The Gunstringer" show is a marionette puppet act of an old Wild West revenge story which is performed in front of a live audience. In the Kinect game, players act as the puppeteer controlling the main character, the Gunstringer, as he confronts the challenges of enacting his vengeance on his old posse for betraying him and putting him in an early grave. The levels are constructed out of painted cardboard, stitched fabrics, and are even manipulated by the giant live-action hands of the puppeteers and stagehands. The stagehands will roll boulders, break bridges, and place explosives all in the interest of making the “show” more entertaining for the audience. The developers, Twisted Pixel, did an excellent job creating a unique backdrop that adds to the comical tone of the game’s story and gives gamers something they haven’t seen before.
Well-placed cutscenes are narrated by an old cowboy as if the tale was being told at a dimly lit campfire on the prairie. This was the most thrilling and unexpected part of the game for us. It creates charm that easily distinguishes The Gunstringer from any other Kinect game in terms of creativity and presentation. The narration is genuinely funny as it reiterates the actions of the Gunstringer and gives the history of the odd characters the Gunstringer encounters, like the love affair between lumberjack and alligator, which gave birth to one of the game’s bosses - a hideous, plaid-wearing alligator lumberjack. The story’s narration, wacky world, and unique characters are easily the best part of the game.
Gameplay consists mainly of on-rails shooting, which reminded us of the tank level from Star Fox 64 with a pencil-bodied horse and six shooters instead of Fox’s Landmaster. The Gunstringer rides his trusty steed or tears through the countryside on foot shooting up oil fields, boarding runaway trains, and hopping on some other unexpected modes of transportation like a statue of Andrew Jackson. Certain sections will give the player control of a second six shooter, where the Gunstringer duel wields Wyatt Earp-style. Dual wielding the pistols has them act more like machine guns than revolvers as the player blasts away hoards of incoming enemies using both right and left hands to aim.There are also platforming sections that act as bridges between the shooting sections and serve as transitions to new scenes and locations. While the platforming sections fall flat with the repetitive action of jumping over pits and logs, the shooting sections are where the fun is. Targeting six enemies and letting loose a hail of gunfire feels great, especially when it is done in quick succession to obliterate several groups of enemies.
To reward players for their prowess with the revolver, cash is earned by shooting anything and everything on the screen. If players manage to collect “el taco diablo,” a glowing taco scattered around the levels, a cash multiplier gets added to your kill streak until time runs out or the Gunstringer takes damage. When the level is completed, a bronze, silver, or gold medal is awarded based on how much cash is earned. So, there is some incentive to going back and playing through past levels to best your top score.
We were pleasantly surprised at how well the controls worked with the immersion of the game. The left hand mimics how a puppeteer would move a puppet on strings, enabling the player to move the Gunstringer back and forth across the screen. The right hand handles the majority of the gunplay. Players use a reticle to highlight enemy targets in a red outline. Bend the elbow to lift the right hand up, as if experiencing recoil from a six shooter, and the Gunstringer will eliminate all targeted enemies. Gestures feel natural and intuitive. However, there were some hitches with the controls. As is inherent with Kinect controls in games with action elements, the slight delay in registering movement from the hardware translates to missed leaps across chasms and aiming that feels slightly sluggish.
For the price at retail, The Gunstringer is on the short side, taking us about three and a half hours on the first playthrough. There are tons of unlockables in the form of production videos, concept art, and a short list of gameplay bonuses like hardcore mode and character skins added for replay value. We were able to unlock many of the coolest ones with the cash earned from just one playthrough. So, unless a player spends a few extra hours to replay levels for the gold medals or earn enough cash for the rest of the unlockables, The Gunstringer might not be a worthwhile investment; though it does come with the $10 value of the Fruit Ninja Kinect game voucher for Xbox Live.
The Gunstringer has a few hang ups, but it’s fun nonetheless.The presentation, narration, and humorous world coupled with the simple, intuitive controls make it a game to consider for your Kinect collection. However, the shortness and laggy controls could be a deal breaker for the hardcore audience. If you are looking to get some use out of your Kinect with a game that is short but sweet, The Gunstringer might be worth aiming for.