Kinect's vision of turning users into controllers starts to show its genre limitations around the time you spot the available lineup of titles at your nearest store. Developers for the tech have been continuing to tighten their death-grip on the mini-game model of game design. Rafting, balancing, bubble-popping, and tennis variations are some of the golden standards within the line-up, and rarely are you going to get major breaks from those tropes. Which is why The Gunstringer is such an odd animal in the context of Kinect.
For one, The Gunstringer seems to be made with a slightly older target audience in mind. This is an action-comedy from Twisted Pixel Games, a developer who has previously worked on 'Splosion Man. And it's a game that answers that single great question in development: what would happen if we combined Toy Story with The Three Amigos?
The game sneers at you for being left-handed, offering you a "Lefty mode" if you "suffer from left-handedness" and apologises for your general uselessness. Even its title character feels more like the star of an Internet meme than the hero of a Pixar film, regardless of the cartoony nature of the game.
You play a marionette skeleton and a Spaniard, and you've made your home in a Spaghetti Western-styled desert where you fight roaming gangs and hunt flocks of birds, slide behind crates for cover-based combat instances, find your footing around cannonballs as they roll downhill toward you, manoeuvre across 3D platforms, and time your jumps around strategically placed spikes - all with your hands.
Because in The Gunstringer, legs are optional. The Gunstringer imagines a world where Kinect titles don't require users to play their games standing. Instead it turns the game into a sitting-man's pursuit by mapping all the inputs to your hand gestures, letting you take control of the game from your couch.
It's a simple concept where basic actions are dealt with by moving your hands ever-so-slightly, but it manages to demonstrate how much is actually possible with so little.
Your left hand holds up the marionette, and directs him through the environment by motioning in the right direction. The right hand is given the bulk of the responsibility. Moving your right hand across the screen selects the enemies you want to shoot, which usually results in a frantic jerk to select as much on the screen as possible and then bring your arm up to shoot.
A cover-based shoot-out has Gunstringer taunt enemies by waving his hat from behind a crate, wait for the bullets to thud against the box, then peek out to select the group with a wave of your hand and start firing with that frantic jerk. To move to a different crate you'll jerk your left hand like you're manhandling the strings of a real-life marionette and he'll slide across his crate to meet the next one up ahead. Later you can direct him precisely enough to zig-zag between cannonballs as they roll down a hill, and pick up additional crates of cash that contribute to your end score.
Two difficulty modes are available from the start, or rather the choice between turning "Hardcore Mode" on or off is. But it is a decidedly simple game in the way that Kinect titles inherently are. Hardcore Mode itself seems built less for Hardcore gamers and more for anyone with even the vaguest experience in the stuff of action titles. And with the addition of two player co-op which transforms the game into an on-rails shooter, it's doubtlessly easier.
Beyond the impressively snarky attitude and its gun-happy antics this is still a game built squarely for the Kinect audience. But The Gunstringer still ends up bringing novelty value to a piece of tech that was designed to make gaming novel in the first place, by offering a different way to tackle Kinect altogether.
The Gunstringer is scheduled for release on September 13, 2011 in North America and September 16, 2011 in Europe.