After playing the demo, I quickly fell in love with the concept of The Gunstringer, a wild west shooter tale about a lone gunman exacting revenge on his former posse for betraying him. I saw shades of the original Sly Cooper story with the opportunity to deliver a set of engrossing characters. I was excited about the possibility so much that I went out and bought the game, instead of waiting for my GameFly to take the extra day to arrive. Did The Gunstringer live up to my expectations? You’ll have to read more to find out.
The Gunstringer (Xbox 360 with Kinect)
Developer: Twisted Pixel
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: September 13th, 2011
With The Gunstringer, developer Twisted Pixel literally created an original performance piece starring a blue skeleton puppet. The game is a stage and the audience watches on as you, the player, are put in one of the cleverest scenarios in all of gaming. Imagine that you’re holding this marionette by the two sets of strings. The left hand is used to move the body while the right hand is for his shooting arm. It’s a pretty neat idea to be simulated by Kinect, or at least it’s the most creative explanation for the use of motion controls.
Initially, if you would have asked me about the game, I would have told you Twisted Pixel made some extremely smart choices in designing for the Kinect. The Microsoft Camera peripheral is pretty shitty, and every game play experience I’ve had with it has been marred by some sort of detection problem, even the acclaimed Dance Central. I noticed Twisted Pixel had left a lot of leeway for certain game play mechanics in order to cut down on the frustration. One of the mechanics handled exquisitely was the lock-on gun. As the Gunstringer you’re allowed to lock on to six objects, one lock for each bullet in the chamber. But the game is generous in a way that when a player activates the firing motion, anything else further locked-on will just continue the onslaught even though there are only six shots. I saw this as something that a lesser developer would have missed, leaving gameplay much more tedious and frustrating with the constant reloading.
The first few acts are pretty standard. There’s nothing amazing created but the design is unique and handled well enough to not cause problems. I really want to hammer the point home, there were really smart ideas implemented into the Gunstringer. The potential was here for a really unique game package to finally give Kinect some purpose. But as the game wore on, the difficulty became more demanding and the flaws shone through like it has with all Kinect games.
The Gunstringer started to fall apart right around the moment when I realized that the game is essentially only 5 or 6 sequences re-skinned and replicated for the entirety of the experience. There are rail shooter sequences. There are cover shootouts parts. There are dual-shoot portions where the player controls aiming reticules with both hands. There are chase moments. There are parachute drops and finally, there are the side-scrolling levels. Each of these is only varied by the visual representation on screen to match the current scenario. Even the enemy types are the same throughout only changing outfits to match the level’s theme. This makes me think there was either a lack of innovation or there are true limitations of the Kinect that cannot be overcome.
The worse offense by far is in each final showdown with posse members. In a game like this, the boss battles should be as unique as the individual. The evil sheriff should have an evil quick draw. The combat with the oil baron should involve a fist fight over a pit of bubbling crude. The encounter with the bar maiden should be one of seduction and enticement. The final two bosses are a swordsman and an undead queen. I think you guys can use your imagination to come up with a great idea on how it should have been handled. But none of this is realized as EVERY SINGLE BOSS BATTLE IS EXACTLY THE SAME. I’m not exaggerating. After the initial Wavy Tube Man, each battle is a 2-d set pattern of projectiles, dodging, and combat that is rehashed for each of the wonderful baddies making them no longer wonderful. Any individuality is swept under the rug and I’m still wondering to myself, why?
Here's an example...
This is the same set up for literally every single boss in the game
The Gunstringer didn’t deliver on any of my storyline hopes either. Keep in mind this is just a personal gripe and should not be confused with actual game play complaints. But I could have easily overlooked some of the monotonous gameplay had there been an entertain story to keep the package tied together. However, there was only the most barebones of explanations lacking any true humor, imagination, or even background.
I’ve had major problems with all of Twisted Pixel’s games in the past. The Maw, Comic Jumper, and the Slposion Series have all found a way to erk me into not finishing. Going into The Gunstringer, I felt confident that this would be the game from the Austin based “indie” developer to turn my opinions around. Their silly live action antics have always worn thin with me but I didn’t see any traces of that going into The Gunstringer. I guess I should have expected it coming from them though. They have a style that works for them and I can respect them for sticking with their guns since the beginning. I think it’ll always be something that won’t sit well with me, even when I take the time to play their next new release.
I do think it’s a bit unfair in my expectations out of Twisted Pixel but when I saw that first black and white picture, the one with ex-posse together, I imagined a true gunslinger’s tale. It would have been fine to be silly, as long as it was creative and well written. Deliver a compelling story with a competent Kinect experience. That is what Kinect games should be about, the experience. We already know the gameplay is going to be flawed so developers need ensure the quality of other areas to make up for it. I don’t feel The Gunstringer captured either of these points and there was no real reason to make this a full retail game. I just assume Microsoft needed a legitimate game for their struggling peripheral so Twisted Pixel was persuaded to stretch out the game to match the full price.
Ultimately, I wasn’t wrong. This is my favorite Twisted Pixel game. I love the setting and feel of the world. The character design for The Gunstringer and his posse are fabulous and the concept rock solid. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t the game it could have been but I feel safe in saying that if you’re a fan of previous Twisted Pixel experiences and have a Kinect, this might just be for you.
Score: 68 out of 100
A storybook tale minus the story.
Credits to Sci-Fi for the Review Banner.
On a side note, I would like to point out a ninja and samurai are not Chinese. Those are concepts of Japanese history. I found it a tad upsetting when the game introduced a Cowboy Samurai but deferred everything under the Asian Chinese banner. In those levels, there were bits of Chinese and Japanese influence mashed together. To the untrained eye, they might look the same, but they’re actually very distinct. I would hate for the two cultures to be lumped together and not given their proper credit or individuality, so I felt the situation should have been explained and handled with a big more tact. I don’t know if it was for lack of concern or a lack of understanding of the situation, but I feel it’s definitely a dropped ball.