Sep 27, 2011

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The Gunstringer Review

The Gunstringer Review

Buried and left for dead by his former posse, this skeleton marionette is out for revenge.  Armed with two pistols and no remorse, the Gunstringer will seek out and track his betrayers one by one until he brings justice to them.  His surroundings may be staged, but his thirst for vengeance is real, and the Gunstringer is seeking your help in exacting it.

The Gunstringer is the first attempt at a retail release from the fine folks at Twisted Pixel, famous for XBLA hits Splosion Man, Comic Jumper, and The Maw.  Players control the undead marionette using the power of Kinect through this platforming rail shooter.  Controls are initially awkward, even though on paper they may not seem to be, with one hand controlling movement and the other focused on shooting.  What makes the controls odd is the targeting system, which  forces players to highlight enemies, then recoil their arm back to fire.  After a little practice, you’ll get the hang of the mechanics, though it’s pretty hard to highlight specific enemies when they’re presented in a large group.  The main character also moves at his own pace, with control completely dependent on the orientation of the camera given the situation.  For missions where the Gunstringer moves forward, control is limited to moving left or right, with jumps thrown in; for side-scrolling missions, players only control the jump mechanic.  For the boss fights (which I’ll discuss more later), our marionette follows the players hand as if he were flying along the set screen.  What Twisted Pixel Games envisioned is actually done quite well given their limitations, and gamers will definitely have fun once they get used to the mechanics.

If anything can be said about Twisted Pixel, it’s that their games are infused with hilarious bits and characters all their own.  Though some may not have had it in the gameplay department like Comic Jumper, it was easily one of the funniest games on the XBLA to date.  Twisted Pixel has once again brought tons of character to The Gunstringer, and while not as funny as Comic Jumper, it’s definitely injected with the Twisted Pixel brand of humor.  Don’t let the art style fool you; The Gunstringer can be played by children, just keep in mind the game does have some crude and lewd humor behind its jokes.  Its direction towards adults is demonstrated in the “audience” watching the Gunstringer’s performance all being of age.  As I stated earlier, the surroundings are staged for our marionette because he is actually part of an act performed for a “live audience.”  The audiences reactions and the developers fourth wall breaking humor is evident with some scenarios showing silhouettes of spectators as well as live hands helping pace the action along the way during some levels.  Once again Twisted Pixel has created an entertaining world and while the “audience members” reactions can become stale, overall, presentation-wise the game succeeds.

After the initial levels, the game begins to take a turn towards being too repetitive.  Enemies and settings may slightly change, but the gameplay doesn’t evolve past “shoot enemies before they hurt you, and dodge or jump past obstacles.”  Achieving a high score is key, but playing through each chapter and level is all dependent on whether you care enough to hunt for achievements or attain a higher medal.  Not once through my time with The Gunstringer did I feel compelled to play through a previous level, because I knew full well that the next level would present the same package, just with a different narration and harder difficulty.  During some scenes, players are given different weapons, like a flamethrower, shotgun, or sword, but it hardly changes the action much.  Sure, the prospect of playing through the game with a partner may be interesting, and will obviously ease the difficulty, but it doesn’t add enough to the overall value.  I’d still be controlling the action while my friend would just control his own six shooter, so the experience is largely the same.

Furthermore the gameplay takes a turn for the worse as a heavy emphasis towards platforming finesse becomes crucial later on in the game.  Twisted Pixel has proven that they’re good at crafting enjoyable and challenging platformers (see the Splosion Man series) but it’s near impossible to safely traverse areas without taking damage due to a lack of one-to-one controls on the Kinect.  Motions often must be initiated earlier then intended due to a minor lag, and given that this is a platformer, it makes a huge difference.  More often then not I received damage due to imprecise movements or lag due to jerky reactions forced by split-second obstacles thrown in my way.  These control issues are highlighted in the multiple monotonous boss battles, where your marionette reacts realistically according to speed of movement and placement.  If I want to dodge multiple attacks, I often have to jerk my arm across my body to avoid them, but doing so causes my character to swing across, sometimes getting damaged by the boss or attacks I’ve intended to miss.  The boss battles themselves aren’t fun in the first place, but the controls further mar the experience.

As much as I’ve complained, I actually did enjoy most of my time playing The Gunstringer.  Twisted Pixel has created a game that I enjoyed more then the higher-rated Child of Eden, and has given me a reason to actually play my Kinect again.  The levels are entertaining enough, as is the narration, but some repetitive and tedious missions towards the latter part of the game nearly ruin the overall experience.  Twisted Pixel has put a lot of time and effort into The Gunstringer with a ton of unlockables, different commentaries, themes, and other goodies, though given that this is usually standard for them, the effort may not seem like that much extra.  The inclusion of Fruit Ninja Kinect is a definite bonus, but this is a review of The Gunstringer as a game, not as a package, and in that regard, it is lacking.  The length is rather short, with a playthrough lasting merely a few hours, and as mentioned above, unless you really enjoy the gameplay, there isn’t that much incentive to replay completed levels again.  Even at $10 cheaper than other Kinect titles, this may still be a tough sell.

Overall, The Gunstringer can be summarized as enjoyable but flawed.  The game is satisfying, though spotty controls, along with repetitive gameplay hurt the game’s overall experience.  The lack of length, along with the horrible last chapter left a bad taste in my mouth, but Twisted Pixel’s personality and humor helped me forgive The Gunstringer’s faults.  This is not a Kinect seller by any stretch, but for those who own the Kinect, I’d recommend renting it at the very least.

The Gunstringer
Platform: Xbox 360 Kinect
Genre: Platformer/Shooter
Release Date: 09/13/2011
Developer: Twisted Pixel
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
MSRP: $39.99