Justice shall be served – we’ll put out a nice spread for him. A nice spread of BULLETS. With The Gunstringer, Twisted Pixel has given us a brilliant, twisted, pacey Western, one that constantly laughs at itself – and probably you, as you flail your arms about wildly. If there was ever a game worth doing that for though, this is it. The controls are simple, the carnage is satisfying, and the narrative is hilarious. I can guarantee you that even though Kinect wasn’t designed for props, after a few levels you’ll be digging out your old six-shooter cap guns just to immerse yourself more fully in Twisted Pixel’s creation. Be honest, we all still have them.
So what’s Gunstringer’s deal? Essentially, you aren’t playing a videogame. You’re performing a miniature marionette show, complete with a “live” audience and witty narration that provides an explanation for why you’re shooting anything that moves – and several things that don’t. You’ll control the unnamed “Gunstringer”, a silent puppet (though he still portrays more emotion than Keanu Reeves) resurrected from the dead, out for revenge against the bizarrely assembled crew that capped him in the first place.
Having a puppet as your main playable character serves two great satisfactions. The first is the simplicity of the controls. With your left hand you move the puppet protagonist – left and right, or up to jump. With your right you aim your six-shooter and unleash destruction on the shooting gallery placed before you. If you “suffer” from left-handedness, you can swap these functions. These controls feel natural, respond fluidly and allow for a smooth ride through Gunstringer’s campaign. The second – and far more important – joy is being able to shout “I am the puppet master!” before flinging the tiny undead cowboy into the nearest cactus. That’s control most videogame protagonists will never understand.
Gunstringer operates through a series of simple mechanics. Movement is easy enough, disciplinary cactus-collisions aside. Move the Gunstringer to either side of an obstacle or have him jump it. Most of the time you’ll be playing from behind him, but the game is not afraid to vary this, putting you in front of the puppet for exciting chase scenes, or to the side of him for certain Boss battles and progressive scrolling obstacle courses. Combat is even simpler – point your hand to move your crosshairs over as many targets as you can, watch them light up, then mime recoil to have our hero rattle off the shots.
There are extra weapons to be picked up for certain cover-based sections, and multiple vehicles to increase the action, including a ferry with all the grace and poise of a dolphin, leaping out of the water to avoid obstacles. It’s also unlikely you’ll get stuck anywhere along the way, as the game is very forgiving of any mistakes, though high score junkies might want to consider making less of these rather than more.
It must be noted, Gunstringer is short. If you play it with determination you’ll finish it in an evening, and even if you’re on-again off-again with it it’s unlikely to take you more than a few days. Having said that, I think Twisted Pixel has hit the spot perfectly with this, by keeping it short and varying the gameplay that is included Gunstringer never becomes overly repetitive. It’s the gaming equivalent to “the best 30 seconds of your life”. And if there’s anything better than that, it’s spending those seconds with someone else – the wit and silliness of this game is so brilliant it would be much better enjoyed playing alongside a friend.
Sadly, this is where Gunstringer falls shy. Your friend may (literally) put their hand up to play, but the two of you can only share control of the Gunstringer, firing the same gun, and halving the on-rails sections. While it may have been difficult to work out, it would have been nicer to have two puppets running around causing mayhem. The second-player role might be better filled by a small child if there is one in your life, although be prepared to cover their eyes at times, as the most tender and loving relationship in Gunstringer is the romantic entanglement of a burly lumberjack and an unsuspecting crocodile.
This disappointment, however, should not tarnish what is an otherwise polished and entertaining creation. Satirical and self-referential, short and sweet, Twisted Pixel has provided a multitude of six-shooting fun, and their quirky creation tucks itself nicely into several age-groups. The Gunstringer is one of the most inventive and chaotic titles for the Kinect to-date.