Disclaimer: This article originally appeared over the weekend on our PAX East 2011 coverage hub. Travel there to read more previews, interviews and features from the expo.
The Gunstringer is an exceptionally unique title. This Twisted Pixel offering, the company behind ‘Splosion Man, The Maw and Comic Jumper, is exclusive to XBLA and makes use of the Kinect. That’s two firsts for the company and the Kinect itself; this could be considered the first "core" Kinect title, and it’s the first downloadable game for the new camera hardware.
Players take up the strings of a marionette as they control a gunslinging, skeleton puppet hell bent on revenge. All of this is actually portrayed through a play that the player is performing. It’s like this… The intro is live action. Players are lead into a theater at the onset of the game, on a path that takes them past the real Twisted Pixel staff, and they’re on their way to perform a play with a puppet. That play is the game itself.
We were treated to the entire prologue during our brief stint with it on the PAX show room floor. Players are delivered the introduction to the story, dropped in the desert and made to fight a crazy, wavy-armed cactus man. That’s right, the first boss is actually one of those hilarious wavy-armed men from outside a used car dealership. Or, if the game’s voice-over is to be believed, the kind of wavy-armed men you’d find outside of a gynecologist’s office.
This is a mostly on-rails effort, something that Twisted Pixels’ Jay Stuckwisch, the Community Manager, owned up to as being a slight challenge. They tackle the potentially repetitive nature of on-rails gameplay by introducing unique camera angles and situations to the player constantly. That notion was reinforced during my brief demo as the camera swung from close-ups to drawn out third-persons to a nearly 2D running section. The result was a game that felt more dynamic than your typical on-rails slider that sort of pushes you in one direction in front of a single camera angle.
Where gameplay is concerned, like I said, this game is entirely controlled by the Kinect. I had the misfortune of wearing a gray shirt against a white table cloth, and the hardware had a hell of a time picking up my body and recreating my motions. However, I saw the device working at a wonderful clip on a much larger screen with proper distance between the player and the sensor. So, while I had a hard time getting the Kinect to react, under the proper conditions it works just fine.
Players will predominantly use their right hand to control their targeting and shooting, and they’ll use their left hand to control motion. Swipe your left hand to move side to side while running or to pop in and out of cover. With your right hand you’ll aim and target baddies and then recoil your pointer as if you were firing a gun to shoot. The result is this nice, natural feeling of controlling a puppet. And, go figure, that’s exactly what Twisted Pixel was going for.
One concern I had with the game going into the demo, and I’ve already expressed part of this by emphasizing the nature of on-rails efforts, was that it would fall victim to having users perform the same point and shoot actions throughout. And, while that may be partially true, Stuckwisch explained that they made an effort to constantly introduce new attacks and abilities. At the end of the demo, for instance, you unlock this ability to swing your right arm down and smash the enemies on screen. So, rather than just constantly pointing and shooting at the villains, you can squash them like the tiny puppet evil-doers they are.
The Gunstringer is set to release on Xbox LIVE later this year. The game is, obviously, exclusive to Microsoft’s console because of the Kinect. Be sure to check it out not only for the completely unique gameplay mechanics it offers, but for Twisted Pixel’s astounding level of humor and craft.