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The Gunstringer hands-on preview

We love Twisted Pixel. Their games are super charming, well-designed, and genuinely a great time. So when we got a chance to check out The Gunstringer, their upcoming downloadable Kinect title, you can bet we were stoked to get our hands on it. Or, off it. Whatever. Is it still a hands-on if there are no controllers? At any rate, The Gunstringer looks really cool and officially has our attention.

Our demo started with a live-action shot of a woman walking into a theater where, judging by the marquee, The Gunstringer is playing. As she sat down to watch the show, we were taken backstage, where a group of stagehands are setting up some sort of play. It's all very well-written and witty, with the actors scrambling to set up the play while giving each other a hard time. It's a great introduction to a game that works very hard to be charming. One stagehand carries the Gunstringer himself, and as the curtain gets ready to rise, he drops the puppet into a pile of dirt, covers it up, and dashes offstage.

Immediately, the undead puppet switched from being an inanimate object into a CGI one with the player as the puppeteer. The story of the game is pretty normal Western fare; The Gunstringer was once a part of a posse of outlaws, but following some sort of grave disagreement, was shot and left for dead. Of course, he wants revenge on his former cohorts, and has chosen to take out this revenge by running forward as quickly as possible and firing his revolver at everything.

The Gunstringer is, at its heart, a rail shooter controlled by moving your arms around. With our left hand, we moved the titular puppet left and right to avoid enemy fire and flicked it up to make him jump. Cover works the same way, with the puppet popping out to the left or right depending on which way you move your hand. Unlike many Kinect titles not developed by Harmonix, the movements were pretty fluid and responsive. We were able to make our way through levels without any real problems with avoiding oncoming cacti or bullets, and the jumping worked fairly well. Surprising, considering the control problems so many early Kinect titles have had.

Firing his revolver is handled by the right hand, which we chose to hold in the proper fake pistol gesture. We were told that we didn't have to hold it that way, but it's definitely more fun that way. Shooting works a lot like Red Dead Redemption's Dead Eye, in which you highlight up to six enemies and "pull the trigger" once to take them all out in one quick fire motion. In this case, rather than hitting the right trigger, you cock your hand up like it's getting kicked back by gun recoil. Just like the movement, the aiming is surprisingly precise, and not having to fire at each enemy individually makes sure we don't suffer from gun-arm fatigue. That's just a good design decision, folks.

For such a simple title to succeed, it needs to bleed charm. Fortunately, The Gunstringer has it in spades. With all sorts of silly characters (the first boss is a wavy tube man like you'd see at a used car lot trying too hard to bring in customers), plenty of sight gags (occasionally, a human arm will drop off a seemingly forgotten bit of dynamite, which was certainly unexpected and rather hilarious), and we can only expect more as it gets polished up and gets closer to release.

Mar 1, 2011