The Gunstringer arrives for Kinect just a week after SEGA's ill-fated horror effort Rise of Nightmares. While both games attempt to deliver a 'proper' gaming experience instead of yet another series of mini-games, Twisted Pixel's Marionette cowboy title is far more accomplished. Compared to standard third-person shooters The Gunstringer feels about as removed as can be while still occupying the same genre, but the gameplay mechanics and game design have clearly been built around Kinect, side-stepping the usual pitfalls that have hindered past games for the platform.
The setup here is pretty unique. A Marionette stage show is taking place, depicting the revenge of The Gunstringer across a series of themed stages. Our hero must track down former members of his posse who left him for dead, encountering some truly bizarre and crazy foes along the way. All the while a real-life crowd of people are watching the show, with cutaways often showing their over-the-top reactions to the performance and cheers being heard over the game's soundtrack.
As a marionette The Gunstringer is the perfect character to be controlled using Kinect. Your left hand is used to move the puppet left and right and can be flicked up to make him jump, while your right hand is your aim, trigger-finger and fist. The majority of stages see the undead cowboy automatically running forward, with you left to strafe him around, but at other points you are rooted behind cover, with your left hand used to step out from behind a crate in order to get a shot off.
Shooting is generally always handled in the same way. Using your right hand you paint over targets and then flick your arm up, bending it at the elbow, to fire off up to six shots at once. It's a system not too dissimilar to what's seen in games like Child of Eden and Rez, just with an added trigger pulling mechanic. At points you'll get to use special weapons, such as shotguns, flame throwers and samurai swords, with the game dropping the target lock-on system in favour of free-aiming.
Far less frequent are straight up platforming sequences in which you have to jump over obstacles and gaps, either horizontally across the screen or while running away from danger towards the camera, Uncharted 2 style. From time to time you'll even get to punch enemies, although these sequences are beyond simple and are thankfully used quite sparsely.
On the game's standard difficulty setting The Gunstringer is an incredibly easy game. I only suffered death at the hands of two of the game's boss characters - one of which was down to not understanding what I was supposed to be doing. Aside from a fight against a crocodile-human hybrid and a Chinese dragon, bosses are all former posse members. These confrontations all share the same format, with The Gunstringer and his foe placed on the theatre's stage with gameplay switched to something akin to an incredibly basic shmup.
Compared to Twisted Pixel's previous games The Gunstringer isn't nearly as hardcore, but it does share the same sense of humour that's become the studio's calling card. While I didn't find it to be as amusing as Splosion Man, Ms Spolosion Man or even Comic Jumper, there are definitely some funny moments. Overall presentation is pretty slick even if the visuals are a bit rough around the edges. Little touches like the crowd reactions and the way a narrator describes what's going on as you're playing mean the game's style and sense of humour come together to create a lovely package.
A question must be raised over the price of The Gunstinger, though. The £29.99 tag seems a little expensive given that the content on offer feels very much like an XBLA release. The entire campaign can be breezed through in an afternoon, and while the included token for Fruit Ninja Kinect is a nice bonus, it won't be of any use if you've already bought it. There are leaderboards for highscores and a basic two-player co-op mode (the second player has their own aiming reticule), as well as numerous unlocks, but overall there's a definite sense of being a little short-changed.
The Gunstringer is the best 'proper' game I've played on Kinect and stands as a decent title regardless of platform or peripheral used, but it's a little shallow and is asking for a lot retailing at £29.99. As an XBLA release this would have been a no-brainer, but as a retail title The Gunstringer's neat gameplay mechanic and fun sense of humour aren't quite enough to push the game into essential territory.