Title: The Gunstringer

Platform: Xbox Kinect

ESRB Rating: T

Publisher: Microsoft

Developer: Twisted Pixel

Rating: ★★★★☆

Review by: Bill Jones

In the realm of undead marionette cowboy video games focusing on motion controls, The Gunstringer is the only entry. And that’s why, no matter its faults, the title demands the attention of gamers. But with Twisted Pixel (Ms. Splosion Man, The Maw) behind its development, the unique entry for Xbox Kinect keeps the faults to a minimum and the fun at its max.

The Gunstringer also happens to be the name of the game’s main character, or at least the only name we come to know him by. He is a sheriff who was betrayed by his posse and killed. Only, The Gunstringer is simply a marionette, and the story takes place on a theater stage which is framed by a live-action audience. The player takes the role of puppeteer, lifting The Gunstringer to start the game, as he crawls from his grave, now undead and bent on revenge.

Each act of the game starts with the gamer lifting The Gunstringer with her or her left hand (this can be flipped, for lefties). While the character’s movement through each act is essentially “on rails,” the gamer still uses his left hand to move the marionette left and right (to dodge thing or emerge from cover), as well as up for jumps. The right hand is pointed like a finger gun and used to move a reticule that can lock on up to six targets. Then the player pulls back his hand, like recoil, and The Gunstringer unloads on the targets. A friend can also join the fun, with the second player simply focused on shooting, rather than movement.

The mechanic is a lot of fun, and without giving away too many gameplay spoilers, Twisted Pixel does its best to use the simple motion inputs in creative ways to keep things interesting throughout the game. That’s not to say it’s perfect. The reticule never seemed like it was quite in the right spot for me, but there are no quick-draw scenarios or anything where the accuracy seems to make that much of a difference. The left-hand motions also work fairly well, in all but some of the most intense scenes, when the gamer is expected to navigate quickly through narrow corridors with frequent jumps.

And while the developers do their damndest to keep things fresh, it’s hard not to feel at times that it’s a repetition of the same few scenarios, just with different skins, vehicles, etc. That said, The Gunstringer keeps it relatively brief, so before anything gets monotonous, gamers have reached the amusing conclusion of the tale. And that’s another point worth noting — the game feels a little short for a retail release, though arguably a bit long for the usual fare associated with downloadable content. But the length seems just right for The Gunstringer, and that’s what is most important.

But Twisted Pixel has done plenty to bulk up the package, and the price tag doesn’t seem like too far of a stretch for the content provided. In addition to the core game, Twisted Pixel offers its usual bevy of unlockables, from different gameplay modes, to videos, to concept art and even achievements that can be bought with an in-game currency earned from gameplay performance. The Gunstringer also offers a free download pack, with a store for more hopefully on the way. It also includes a download code for Fruit Ninja Kinect, which while simply a port of the casual fare already offered on iPhone, is an undeniable load of fun.

What mainly drives The Gunstringer, though — outside of its unique gameplay that is one of the first big standouts for Kinect — is its Twisted Pixel sense of humor. It pervades everything in the game, from the concept, to the plot, to its framing, to its twisted turns, even to its controls. So yes, The Gunstringer has its faults, but gamers will likely be having so much with this unique entry into the gaming realm that it’ll be easy to forgive those transgressions. And The Gunstringer is the best thing to hit Kinect since Dance Central, so fans looking for something to fill their camera-motion-controlled appetite will find plenty to love with the latest from Twisted Pixel.

For more info, thegunstringer.com

Pads & Panels received a copy of the game courtesy of the studio for review purposes.