The Gunstringer Review

By Matt Cabral - Posted Sep 19, 2011

Addictive, arcade-flavored gameplay and plenty of infectious personality make Twisted Pixel's puppet-starring cowboy shooter their best game yet and the Kinect's first must-buy entry. Giddy up, controller-phobic gamers!

The Pros
  • Presentation has style to spare
  • Arcadey shoot-'em-up action
  • Intuitive Kinect controls
  • Free day-one DLC and Fruit Ninja Kinect
The Cons
  • Campaign is short
  • Playing from couch is a chore

The Gunstringer Review:

In a few short weeks we’ll be drowning in a sea of triple-A titles -- Arkham City, Skyrim, Uncharted 3, and at least a dozen others -- will siphon our wallets and free time before the year’s up. And while these buzz-generating, blockbusters-to-be are expected to make Metacritic their bitch, I doubt any will stretch a smile across my face the way The Gunstringer did.

Developed by Twisted Pixel--a studio that’s already proven they can craft quality, off-the-wall experiences with The Maw and Splosion Man series--the Kinect-enabled Gunstringer is oozing with charm and brimming with controller-free fun. It’s also the best rootin’ tootin’ reason so far to flail your limbs in front of Microsoft’s new tech.


The Wacky West

The core gameplay is lightning fast, crazy fun, and super accessible, but it’s the personality-packed presentation that steals this show by a country mile. Controlling a marionette cowboy who looks like a Day of The Dead (the Mexican holiday, not the zombie flick) decoration, players embark on a seemingly typical tale of revenge and redemption in the old west. What separates the Gunstringer from Clint Eastwood movies, aside from the fact the protagonist’s a six-shooting puppet, however, is its sharp humor and one-of-a-kind style.

Like Red Dead Redemption’s John Marston, the titular pistol-packer is out to teach his former posse some manners. For players, this means filling lots of foes full of holes through a multi-act narrative, complete with all the epic encounters, high noon showdowns, and dramatic cliffhangers you’d expect from a ripping wild west yarn.

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You’ve Got Me On A String

Of course, in the cleverly named Gunstringer all the action unfolds during an on-stage puppet show. Paper mache, cardboard, popsicle sticks, and Lincoln Logs make up the eye-popping sets and colorful characters; there’s even beer can-constructed cattle that spray foam when shot.

Further selling the stars-on-strings theme is an actual audience watching the performance. As you play, they’ll cheer when bad guys are bested and boo when cowboy justice isn‘t properly served. In addition to hearing their expressive hootin’ and hollerin’, the camera occasionally pans so players can take in their intent facial expressions.

It’s pretty hilarious to see a movie theater-sized audience--of actual people, not animated avatars--react to a puppet show as if it were an edge-of-your-seat event. Further complementing this bizarre, but totally awesome, approach is a narrator that comments on your performance in real-time.

The Gunstringer

Gunslinging Good Time

As anyone who’s played any number of Kinect titles will tell you, arm-flailing frustration sometimes overshadows the rest of the experience (I’m looking at you, Rise of Nightmares.) Thankfully, the Gunstringer utilizes a few simple gestures that the Kinect has little trouble keeping up with. Players use one hand to paint and shoot targets and the other to trigger the hero’s jumps and left and right actions.

Using both hands to execute different moves is a bit confusing in a rub-your-belly-and-pat-your-head-simultaneously sort of way, but the learning curve isn’t steep. In fact, within minutes you’ll be leaping over streams, unloading your six shooter into bizarro baddies, and collecting glowing taco power-ups--yep, you heard right!--with ease. All that said, I’d recommend adopting a standing position; the title boasts the ability to play cowboy from the couch, but I found the controller-free gameplay less responsive from the saddle.

The Gunstringer

The Gunstringer’s 4-hour campaign mixes things up with a few platforming levels and some variations on the gunplay, such as sections that have you sacrificing character movement in favor of dual-wielding pistols. There’s also a co-op mode that grants a second player a crosshair to help the out-numbered hero thin the enemy ranks. The ability to earn bonus content-unlocking badges and rack up Achievements also encourages replay.

It’d be easy to dismiss the Gunstringer as a short, on-rails shooter. Doing that, however, would be a mistake on the level of sneaking up on a rattlesnake. While its expert pacing, arcade action, smooth interface, and free bonus content--day-one DLC and a copy of Fruit Ninja Kinect--elevate it high above its point-and-shoot peers, the real draw lies in its endlessly entertaining presentation. With the age-spanning appeal and charming personality of a Pixar production, the Gunstringer is the best reason yet to put down your gamepad and get off the couch. Go get ‘em, puppeteer pardner!