Developer: Twisted Pixel
Release date: September 13, 2011
Price: $39.99 – Purchase Here!
There is something that can be said about a video game developer that, when mentioned, can make people laugh simply due to their reputation. One such company which has reached these ranks with their games is Twisted Pixel. Nearly every title that they have produced over their relatively short developing lifespan has been quite a well-received hit and also delivered plenty of laughs.
However since Twisted Pixel’s first step in creating games in 2009, they never actually have released a game that has stepped beyond the digital storefronts of the Xbox Live Marketplace. However that has all changed as the company has finally released a full retail title for the Xbox 360, which is also their first title to make use of the Kinect motion tracking feature. How does Twisted Pixel’s style of gaming translate to a full title… especially one that is focused entirely around the Kinect?
The Gunstringer takes its storyline in a rather odd direction immediately. The whole storyline for the game takes place on a stage of a theater where the crew is holding a live puppet show for those in attendance. Your role is that of the puppeteer and must control the Gunstringer on his quest.
What quest is he on you ask? Well one for revenge of course. As you raise the Gunstringer out from the grave he immediately sets out to take revenge against his old crew that betrayed and left him sleeping in the bottom of a shallow grave. The whole experience is a rather simple revenge story and each area will have the Gunstringer seeking out a member of his old posse and eliminate them and the lord help anyone who comes in your way.
Since this is a Twisted Pixel game that may sound a bit too standard, and of course it is. Your old crew ranges from a wavy tube man to a samurai cowboy made out of jade to a man with a literal barrel for a belly. This is only the tip of the iceberg for some of the bosses you will fight against which of course means that there is plenty of humor just for these bosses alone.
Besides that there are always plenty of jokes and references to past famous Western movies that will help keep players not only laughing but also trying to remember if they have ever seen that specific Western movie. The jokes can be from roughly anywhere on the board, ranging from simple situational jokes or those about the enemy you are facing, to those relating to cross-breeding. Sure the game is rated T for Teen so none of the jokes are very raunchy in nature but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of hints at some more dirty jokes for those who are old enough to understand them.
The title never truly lets you forget that you are simply the puppeteer of a marionette in a stage show, as you will occasionally see the audience in the background or a realistic hand come in and affect something in the environment. Everything that is realistic looking is done with FMV or full motion video and is absolutely flawless. None of the FMV sections are too obtrusive and they blend quite well with the game, providing not only a unique atmosphere but a unique experience as well.
Outside of the FMV sections everything takes a sort of cartoonish look to itself. The visuals are very bright and contain colors from all over the spectrum. There is a certain aesthetic used here that makes everyone look like puppets in a show, which admittedly they all are. The stage and environments are well varied and have a nice look about them. There are occasionally flashback moments where you will be looking through the screen as if watching everything through a yellow filter, making it feel like an old Western when everything was shown in sepia.
Something that deserves special mention is the character design. The Gunstringer himself certainly has a distinct Western feel about him that provides a real crusty cowboy appearance and the boss characters, as I’ve said before are quite weird on their own, are extremely well done. The wavy tube man is absolutely hilarious and he is the very first boss you go after, letting you know that the experience you are in for is far from the norm.
None of the characters in the game are given a voice and you know what? None of them need one. This is because you are given a very skilled narrator who sounds as if he was actually a person living in the West when it was young. The narrator sets the mood perfectly and his deadpan delivery of jokes is usually what makes them all the more hilarious. His tone fits the Western setting perfectly and his drawl will have players loving to hear him talk.
Though if you don’t always want to listen to the narrator, you don’t have to. One of the many bonus features, which I will go more in-depth with later, that can be purchased is commentary tracks from special guests that will are able to be bought and listened to rather than the actual story. This includes the Red vs. Blue creators Rooster Teeth, the Twisted Pixel team themselves and much more. The commentaries are absolutely hilarious and it is worth playing through a level more than once simply so you can listen to the commentary after purchasing it and hear what they say next.
Besides the commentary the sound effects sound relatively accurate, though the audience who is watching the whole thing will always let you know how you are doing. They will cheer for you when you perform a great task or boo whenever you end up getting hurt and it helps immerse the fact that you are just the puppeteer for a show. While this usually would disenchant from another experience, The Gunstringer’s strange setting is all the better for it.
As a Kinect only title, The Gunstringer makes full use of the motion control peripheral and nothing is left to the controller. The player will be able to navigate the menus through the usual means of hovering their hand cursor (which delightfully looks like the Gunstringer’s glove) and select whichever option they want.
Once you enter into the game, the controls are rather simple. You must move the gunstringer around using your left hand and you do so similar to if you were controlling an actual puppet. Simple sliding left and right usually works but you need to pay attention to the strings holding him as they usually tell you how far you may need to slide your hand to move him one way or another. Jumping is simply done by lifting your left hand as if you were pulling a puppet into the air as well.
Your right hand is going to be the busy one however, as you will be using it to lock onto various targets and shoot to kill. Players can lock on up to six targets at a single time simply by passing the aiming reticle over them, then shoot by jerkign your arm back as if you were actually shooting a gun. Imagine when you were a child and made your finger into a gun shape and went “bang bang” and that is exactly the motion you will be making. Sure you don’t have to actually make your hand into that form but it is certainly a delight to stand there making pew pew sounds every once in a while.
The game is more or less a strict on rails game where you have to jump over obstacles in your path or avoid them by moving left and right. There are occasional moments where you need to hide behind cover and can shoot by pulling your left hand one way or another. There are also a few moments where the game will change dimensions and be similar to a 2D game, or when you acquire a second weapon and can let both hands do the shooting and rain lead down on your enemies, or especially when some boss battles occur usually involving interesting firefights that involve avoiding incoming attacks and then slamming your puppet into them to stun and shoot them.
The Kinect doesn’t have many issues picking up your motions, usually being quite accurate. That isn’t to say that it is perfect though. There are a number of times the game may think you are firing your gun even though you haven’t which can sometimes be a pain though not too much of a problem. This is also a problem when you must jump through certain areas which can hurt or kill you and the game fails to pick up the jump at the right time. While annoying at times, these mishaps are usually few and far between. Plus the game even has a lefty mode so you can switch the controls around if you prefer using your left hand for shooting, making things more comfortable for southpaws.
While guiding the Gunstringer past obstacles, over jumps and also shooting bad guys you will need to maintain his health, though this usually isn’t a problem. There are usually a lot of health pick-ups scattered through a level and when acquired they fill your health up completely. This makes the game pretty easy on its normal setting and only challenging at a few small parts.
This is one of the issues that can be had with The Gunstringer. The game features a relatively short, albeit funny, story which can be completed easily within a weekend though your gun arm may be a bit sore afterwards. The story doesn’t change very much but the length may lend itself to the fact that The Gunstringer was planned originally as an XBLA release.
Still, there are plenty of things that will keep a gamer coming back to play through every level at least a few times. One of these key things is the aforementioned Commentary that can be bought in the Bonus Store, which add a whole new commentary which is worth listening to. Plus there is a literal ton of stuff that can be unlocked in the Bonus store. This includes various modifiers to the game which can make it more fun or different, bonus videos, concept art, galleries and a whole bunch of unlockable stuff. These things are unlocked with money that you accrue playing through a level and given as your score for that level. Of course there is also the Hardcore mode but that is perhaps recommended for only the most diehard gamer because if you do happen to die, you die very hard all the way out of the game to the Xbox Dashboard.
Another thing that can always extend your fun is having another play join in. Nearly the entire game is fully co-op compatible, meaning you and a friend can play pretty much the whole game together. The second player only aims their gun and shoots at things on screen with no real character, meaning Player 1 still controls the character. The interesting thing about co-op is that it is completely seamless, a player can walk into the Kinect’s range, raise their hand to play, shoot a few enemies and leave and the game won’t skip a beat allowing them to enter in and then drop out as if nothing happened.
There are many games that can be said to be an experience deserving a Kinect purchase, but most of these don’t have the content to back it up. Twisted Pixel’s The Gunstringer on the other hand has plenty. The title has a very enjoyable story and single player mode, though short, can also be joined by another friend at the drop of a hat making it a great game for friends to play or a family even.
Plus that doesn’t even cover the extra content that is bundled with The Gunstringer. First there is the Fruit Ninja game which comes free with purchase as a download code. You can find my review of Fruit Ninja here and also remember it is bundled with an already great game. Also there is an entirely FMV DLC that is completely free called The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles that only adds to the hilarity and provides a nice little bonus to a game already packed with content.
I give The Gunstringer