The Gunstringer is a strange title, it has gone from what was a planned Xbox LIVE arcade release to a full priced title within a few short months, mostly thanks to the great feedback that the game had during some of its early showings during the past year.
The game is a Kinect-based platformer/shooter with a twist, you puppeteer a gun-toting cowboy though various “on-stage” performances in which “The Gunstringer” seeks out revenge on his former posse.
The game is played out as though it was being acted out on a theatre stage with live action footage intertwined with the game engine. Betrayed by his posse, you must control the undead marionette as he rises from his grave and takes to the Old West.
The controls are surprisingly simple to get to grips with, but hard to master. You control the puppet though a selection of both 3D and 2D levels, all of which is done via your hands. You use your left hand to control “The Gunstringer” while your right hand is used as the targeting reticule, which can target up to six enemies at a time. Flicking your left hand up high allows you to jump, while swinging your right arm up to your shoulder enables you to shoot all the enemies or items you have targeted with your gun.
It all works perfectly well, but does require quite a bit of co-ordination, especially when you are having to jump over items as you run through the levels while shooting down enemies, their bullets and various items along the way. You also have the option to punch with your fist, which can help to clear out enemies who are up close and personal.
At various sections of the game you have to take cover behind rocks and other objects, during these pieces of gameplay you can switch between various sides of cover and take out the enemies who are hiding from you. You will also get to smash your fist down to pummel enemies at certain points in the game, although usually during what we feel are interactive cutscenes.
Some levels are broken up with ability to take control of various vehicles or ride on the back of animals, but once again it is all on the rails with very little control over where to go other than left, right and jump.
Any control issues that show up tend to be Kinect’s fault rather than the game itself, picking up people in the background watching rather the game rather than playing far too easily, while the one-to-one tracking seemed to be a little off at times.
This is however, a game that can be played in a smaller space that many other Kinect based titles which may be of interested those of you who have struggled with space to play your Kinect games, you can even play through the whole game sitting down.
As you play through the game the enemies and items you shoot and collect add to your overall level score, at the end of each stage your are rated with Gold, Silver and Bronze badges, with a number of collectables, unlockables (gamer pictures), abilities and more given to you when you perform to your best. Getting the gold badges doesn’t come easy either, which helps give the game some kind of replayability.
The Gunstringer manages to have a reasonably fun story behind it, though when you have played through the game once, you will forget it pretty quickly. Throughout the game, the story and your performance are narrated as you play, in a similar way to which Bastion first did it. Overall it works quite well, though the canned clapping and cheers from the “live” theatre viewers can get tiresome quickly, especially when they can sometimes clap for a simple jump.
You don’t have to play through the game in single player mode only, a friend can join in alongside you at any point thanks to drop in and drop out local co-op support. You can also see how well you are doing against friends via the Xbox LIVE leaderboards.
Graphically the game does a good job of portraying a cartoon style setting and characters, it isn’t going to blow anyone away but the frame rate is solid even when a lot is going on in the background. The character design is good too, especially for “The Gunslinger” himself, reminding me a little of Grim Fandango. Sections, which blend in various full motion video pieces such as a stagehand flicking rocks down a hill, look great and are unique. LittleBigPlanet also looks as if it influenced the developers graphically with many cardboard scenes and objects spread around the stages.
Sound is very good, with some great narration and decent music, though once again it can all repeat itself a little bit too much, especially that darned canned laughter!
As is the norm with Twisted Pixel titles, the game is a lot of fun and can also be very funny in places. What is a bit of an issue is the price, if this was an Xbox LIVE Arcade title as planned, I would recommend it without any hesitation, but turning it into a full priced game is always a risk. What you have to decide is does the game offer enough content and fun for a full priced game, compared to say the $10 title it was originally planned to be. Our view is that it just about carries it off, although don’t expect much in the way of deep gameplay.
Yes you get Kinect Fruit Ninja thrown in for good measure, but many Xbox LIVE users are likely to have paid for that already, especially due to the lack of decent Kinect titles around over the past few months.
The game was also classed as one of the first “Core” titles on Kinect, aimed at gamers other than kids, well in some respects this is true but from our play through, kids enjoy it far more than most of the adults in the room despite its slightly more adult rating and feel. For those of you who are into your gamerpoints, you will be pleased to know that the game passes out achievements without much hardship at the end of every stage so it is easy to get loads within four or so hours of the main game story.
The thing that is so difficult for us with The Gunslinger is that the game isn’t bad at all, its fun and the controls work really well, but it is short and can be a bit on the repetitive side (though enjoy the surprise ending). You can certainly see where its Xbox LIVE arcade roots came from, but you can also see where it has transformed into a full priced game.
The production values are high too, so in the end if you want what I feel is one of the best Kinect games around right now, you should pick up “The Gunslinger”, just don’t expect it to be a game you keep coming back to once completed or that you will find a game that is really for what Microsoft still call “core” Xbox gamers. What you really have here is a slightly more interactive on-the-rails shooter, something that many people will really love having back, just make sure you download the DLC released on launch day for the full experience.