Twisted Pixel's western themed Kinect title begins by asking players to simply lift their hand, and in so doing, clutch the marionette strings that bring the Gunstringer to life. Since the Gunstringer is self-propelled, the player is excused from worrying about momentum, instead most often using the left hand to guide the undead cowboy left or right to avoid the obstacles and pitfalls standing between him and the gang that betrayed and buried him. At the same time, the right hand is best kept steady, controlling the gun sight that will automatically grab targets as the Gunstringer moves forward, a flip of the right wrist acting as the trigger that allows players to fill outlaws and scoundrels with hot lead.
The idea of performing a puppet-show stretches beyond the controls. Levels take place on an actual stage, where Twisted Pixel quite literally watches players move through their creation. While these stages always control the momentum, they vary between forward moving 3D segments and 2D side-scrolling diversions, a formula that keeps players from ever performing one singular type of action for too long.
Running forward through stages finds places where the Gunstringer takes cover to break up the action, leaning out to pick off targets before moving forward and again returning to a more chaotic shooting spree. 2D segments will often find players ascending platforms, jumping obstacles ala Donkey Kong and swinging their arms to punch adversaries at each peak. Boss encounters against the members of the Gunstringer's former gang rely heavily on the 2D as well, offering sections that leave players dodging patterned attacks while waiting for key moments to fire back.
Stage lengths take the nature of Kinect-powered controls into consideration, offering shorter runs that appreciate how easy it is to wear your arms out. In my case, more than two missions without a break definitely left my shoulders yearning for a break, mostly owing to enthusiasm and a need to shoot absolutely every last target on screen. The short burst nature of stages also makes revisiting favorites an inviting proposition, offering space to jump into the game to increase scores and unlock extras. Balancing narrative and opportunities for quick shooting sessions is a difficult task that Twisted Pixel skillfully manages here.
There's an inherent limitation of movement to Kinect titles, and even given the variety of tasks offered, repetition naturally sets in toward the end of the experience. The charm that keeps a sense of the familiar from becoming excessively tedious is a mix of simplistic controls and an ample supply of humor. Twisted Pixel exploits every opportunity to bring the trappings of the western genre to players, from the stage designs and cliché villains to the grizzly voice of narration that blankets the entire experience.
Since the Gunstringer is the strong and silent type, the narrator continually fills players in on the backstory behind this tale of vengeance, and also interacts more directly with players by commenting on their performance, offering praise and hints throughout the game. There's something endlessly satisfying about hitting six targets at once and hearing that voice acknowledge the achievement.
The comedic script is complimented by visuals that play with the idea of a world made from hand-crafted materials. Whether players are riding their pogo stick horse to chase a stagecoach, or shooting cattle made from cans that hiss and spray liquid when shot, there's never a shortage of whimsical imagination working to add subtle details wherever possible. The game is never shy about setting the landscape on fire either, continually offering players the means to set off chains of explosions along the way.
There are times where the game needs to beg forgiveness, particularly for the Zen like control it can take to successfully guide the Gunstringer across narrow passages. It's also worth noting that the need for distance from the Kinect isn't as great here as with other titles, since only your hands need to register on the camera.
This release tosses in a digital download code for Fruit Ninja to further tempt your curiosity.
For more information on The Gunstringer, please check out the Future Shop product page.
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