Review: The Gunstringer (Xbox 360 – Kinect)
The Gunstringer marked two first for the game developers at Twisted Pixel. Their very first Kinect game and their very first full retail release. Originally slated to the be the developer’s fifth Xbox Live Arcade title, The Gunstringer got the bump to a full retail instead, reminding some gamers of the same change in release that happened to another Kinect title, Joy Ride. As is often the case when any title originally meant for digital release winds up getting the full retail treatment, the game must not only provide a quality product but also “prove” that it deserved said treatment. In many ways Gunstringer does the job, in some others, not so much. In fitting with the Wild West theme of the game, it may be best to break it down into the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The Gunstringer tells the tale of a marionette of the same name who has risen from the dead to get revenge on his former crew who turned on him (leading to that whole “dead” thing in the first place). The story is told through a series of plays that make up a live theatre show (with live-action real-people as the audience), and so there are cheers, and jeers as The Gunstringer progresses forward in his missions. All of the art design reflects this, as much of the environments and even the villains you face look like toys, random stuff from around the house and objects available at most craft stores. My favorite example of this was the paper-towel rolls used to make trees. Overall the story is funny, creative and plays perfectly into the world Twisted Pixel have created for their evil little puppet.
You control the game with two hands. The left hand primarily controls the movement of The Gunstringer; left, right, raise your hand to make him jump, etc. Your right hand acts as your primary weapon. Most of the game you use your hand to mark and then shoot targets by bringing your hand back up to your shoulder (like how you pretended to use your hand as a gun as a child, minus the “pew” sound of course). You can acquire six targets at a time and continue to fire beyond that if there is no lapse in your targeting. Occasionally you will perform other acts, such as punching (both with your left and right hands), using a ninja sword (swing your hand like you are swinging a sword) as well as the occasional use of a giant fist to clear large objects (by punching downward). For the most part the controls work well and after a few levels can really start to feel very fluid, but more on that later. The game can be played standing up obviously, but you are just as able to play while sitting (and since you are not using the rest of your body this may be recommended).
Simply put The Gunstringer offers the same quality and fun (as well as funny) that we have come to expect from Twisted Pixel. With several genuinely “laugh-out-loud” moments combined with solid gameplay that works just a little better than you feel like it should, The Gunstringer comes together to offer a solid Kinect experience and a solid gaming experience at the same time.
The Bad (or more appropriately: The Not So Good)
Gunstringer’s bad side mostly resides in two particular aspects of the gameplay. While fun, the game is surprisingly repetitive. The enemies change appearance as the game continues, but not much else; you basically fight the same villains most of the game. The same is true of the bosses, which are all more-or-less identical (modest differences at best). The game does have four or five variants in regards to how you make you way through the levels, which helps, but those four or five basically just repeat periodically. The repetitiveness of the game is surprising when compared to its length, which will clock in at around 3 hours on normal difficulty. The game would have suffered, without question, if it had been needlessly extended (the premise just isn’t that strong) but The Gunstringer’s length is the most obvious remnant of its’ XBLA origins. It is pretty much the perfect length of an XBA game, but painfully short as a full release. The game does offer some replay value (as most Twisted Pixels games typically do), including unlocks such as a hardcore mode (or simply playing enough to unlock al the extras), but these really depend on your having really enjoyed the game in the first place. It also sports a two-player mode, which can add some significant life to the game, if you have someone to play with of course.
At times the controls just feel broken. I hesitate to blame the game for this, as it could definitely be the limits of the Kinect technology or even my own personal set up, but there are some aspects certainly worth mentioning. Firing your gun is prone to issues. For whatever reason Twisted Pixel decided to make the motion needed a bit extreme, basically having to touch your shoulder with your hand, to fire your gun. As a result I found I was occasionally punching myself as I tried to fire rapidly, especially when, for whatever reason, the game just failed to recognize me moving my arm upward several times in a row. The opposite is true for the left hand. The slightest movement in any direction and The Gunstringer will sometimes fly across the screen, and in some cases miss a path because despite having your hand as far to the left as you physically can, the game wanted it to be just a bit further. Most notably though, the jump is incredibly touchy; I would often find myself jumping when my hand hadn’t moved, not jumping when it did, and occasionally jumping over and over again (this last bit I imagine was due to the Kinect itself though). If pressed, I would say that somewhere between 85-90 percent of all damage I took while playing the game came from unintended jumps (or missing a jump because I was unable to jump again because of an unintended jump). The Gunstringer was like a rabbit jacked-up on espresso.
This was far from game-breaking bad though, since, as I stated before the controls felt fluid most of the time. The moments when the game decides “screw you, I’m going to jump anyway” though are incredibly frustrating. Enough so, it deserves mentioning here.
Also a fair warning, your elbow may get a bit sore after an extended play session and no, it isn’t cool to tell people you hurt yourself playing a video game.
So admittedly, The Gunstringer isn’t perfect. It has issues, some of them frustrating, and even potentially pain inducing at their worst (“Feeling tired or sore? Take a break,” is not a joke). It is short and a little repetitive, but ultimately a lot of fun. The Gunstringer had a lot of hype to live up to, as lets face it, Microsoft has been marketing it in many ways as the “hardcore gamer” Kinect game that we have all been waiting for. Twisted Pixel certainly rises to the occasion to once again make an entertaining experience with the unique flair that they are known for. It is witty, quirky, unique and most of the time very enjoyable despite the occasional fault. I would have trouble recommending this at full retail price though. While certainly being one of the better Kinect experiences out there the game struggles to justify the $40 price tag, even if bundled with the XBLA game, Fruit Ninja Kinect (Available for 800 MSP ($10) on Xbox Live). That said, if you are looking to get some more use out of that Kinect there are many worse ways you could go.
Final Rating: 8/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360
Time to complete main campaign: Roughly 3 hours
Gamer Score Earned: 695/1000
Price Bought at: $25 (Don’t ask, it’s complicated)
Current Price: $39.74 (Amazon)
Recommend Purchase Price: Under $30