The Gunstringer Review: Reach for the Sky

Let me paint you city slickers a picture. An undead cowboy with a six-shooter erupts from the dirt, eyes burning with getting revenge on his former posse. A rich oil baron needs to be gunned down, a voluptuous madame should go into early retirement and an inflatable wavy tube man will deflate before the setting sun clears the horizon. It might even be worth mentioning that, barring the tube man, everyone I just mentioned are marionettes playing out this wacky adventure on a stage in front of live audience. Twisted Pixel’s The Gunstringer easily maintains the developer’s quirky sense of humor and provides one of the most creative uses of Kinect controlling beyond throwing a football to your imaginary friends.

Help the Gunstringer shoot his old friends instead!

The Stage Runs Red

The Gunstringer’s journey is a simple one: hunt down all the members of his old crew, one by one, and cut their puppet lives short. His thirst for revenge fueling every move he makes, he pushes forward against all manner of obstacles, be they great walls or skeleton armies. However, it’s not the plot that makes The Gunstringer so entertaining. The fact that Twisted Pixel’s love of full motion video is heavily woven into this western revenge story can make any given moment so bizarre and off-the-wall. Human arms reach into the environment and chase havoc. Audience shots contain real people laughing, booing and high-fiving each other based on what just happened on stage. Presenting the game this way was more than enough to put a smile on my face alone; the whole affair is especially worth it just before the credits roll for the last few moments of gameplay alone. When a lot of Kinect games are about promoting fitness or playing sports, it’s awesome that The Gunstringer is about proving a great laugh in that same controller-free environment.

A Fistful of Puppet Strings

Creating an on-rails shooter for motion controlled platforms seems to be an unspoken rule. Point something at the screen, press a button or pull a trigger. In this case, the mechanics rely on using the player’s own hand (in my case, the right one) as the gun and raising the hand upwards and back to shoot. I made a gun shape with my hand as I played and would that’s highly suggested for maximum immersion. Sweeping the gun hand in all directions allows up to six enemies or objects to be targeted at once, causing all things selected to be shot with one pretend pull of the trigger. As much as I love to make the firing motion, it’s nice to not have to perform it excessively just to dispatch every single enemy that appears.

Gunstringer snakes

Indiana Jones also hated snakes, but never went this far.

The left (or other) hand is primarily used to control the movement of the Gunstringer, drawing the hand left and right to adjust his position on-screen to dodge obstacles and poke out of cover. A quick yank upwards with the leftie is used for jumping. When the action calls for it, the Gunstringer will dual wield pistols and auto-fire until all enemies are dust in the wind. My main conflict came from handling the Gunstringer himself, which can possibly be attributed to a preconceived notion on how I felt those controls should have been. Trying to drag a marionette out of harm’s way felt more like crossing my fingers and hoping for the best rather than developing a skill. There’s just no tangible weight to give me a great prediction about how far to move my hand when the areas of safety get smaller. Jumping sometimes wouldn’t register, but I’ll admit that those instances were rare and due to the mistake of not putting my arm back down after repeated jumps. Even though I wouldn’t describe the controls as perfect, they work.

The action is surprisingly more varied here than the average rail shooter. Platforming is woven throughout the levels to give both arms something to do and a few “vehicular” sections are sprinkled in on top. Over the course of the adventure, the Gunstringer handles a few different weapons and rolls up his sleeves for a good old-fashioned fistfight. There’s even the potential to allow a second player to join in as your shooting sidekick when the urge to murder evil marionettes together arises. The Gunstringer might not be the longest game, but it offers up a good dose of laughs and firepower for one or two sittings. Plus, maintaining that puppeteer pose for any longer would have driven me insane.

Blazing Eyeballs

Gunstringer bridges

Burn all bridges, literal and figurative!

Twisted Pixel’s wild west is one of theatrical fantasy. Tree trunks are cardboard tubes, buildings are flat props and boss battles are epic show pieces as the spotlight illuminates the combatants for the cheering crowd. Throwback full-motion videos play at scripted times, showing audience reactions to the action and these can be randomly hilarious. When two men stand, nod and hug after a boss battle, I could only think that it was the perfect way to acknowledge my awesomeness. Not finishing there, fiery explosions litter the dusty landscape and send tiny toy citizen parts flying in every direction. All the while, guitars strum in true western fashion and a wise old narrator describes the Gunstringer’s actions as he puts bullets into skulls. I wouldn’t describe the sights and sounds here as mind-blowing, but they’re certainly goofy, loud and fun.

No Country for Old Puppets

After the final boss is dead and gone, there are a variety of unlockable bonuses available based on the cash earned from earning high scores in the campaign. These prizes range from standards, like concept art and videos, to a harder difficulty and level commentaries from the Rooster Teeth gang. If that’s not enough to keep the guns on a tight string, The Gunstringer includes a free DLC package titled The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles. This bonus campaign plays like many an old live action quick-draw game, popping assailants into view with mere moments to put them down. It may not have the fresh allure of The Gunstringer, but it’s a goofy throwback and worth a laugh for the acting alone.

The Gunstringer West

So the Kinect was how the West was won.

While not my first experience with Microsoft’s Kinect, The Gunstringer was my first prolonged look into hands-free controls on Xbox. I’m a man who enjoys relaxing with controller in hand when I play a game for hours on end and this was no exception. For all the fun moments I had with The Gunstringer, those memories are plagued with arms getting sore and a small amount of struggling to translate my gesturing into the desired on-screen action. I have to hand it to Twisted Pixel for creating something entertaining, funny and a little outside-the-box. It may not be something that converts gamers into motion freaks, but this fun Western adventure kept my controller out of my hand for a little while.


Giant Bomb (images)