The Gunstringer presents a Kill Bill-like mission of revenge, in which your skeletal sheriff sets out after the former allies that betrayed him long ago. It's a familiar tale, sure, but less standard is the fact that your character is a marionette puppet dangling from strings, and that the enemies include the offspring of an uncomfortably demonstrated cross-species love affair, along with one of those inflatable tube dancers typically found outside car dealerships.
As such, the crux of the narrative is much less important here than the lens through which it is viewed; and it's a very silly lens, indeed -- one provided by Twisted Pixel Games, which has established itself as a premier creator of tremendously funny and charmingly original titles in a very small span of time. The Gunstringer only confirms that notion thanks to a creative adventure that delivers laughs, thrills, and perplexing stares alike, all via a refreshingly peerless presentational approach.
Initially, the game takes the form of a self-propelled behind-the-back shooter, where you'll strafe left and right (and above and around obstacles) and use your auto-targeting six-shooter to easily blast nearby foes. Moving your left hand side to side to move, while bouncing it upwards to jump, may not be perfect; I noticed rare missed actions, plus it's a little tough to gauge how far to shift your hand while avoiding moving hazards. But the idea of controlling your hero via puppet strings may be the most elegant Kinect movement scheme to date, and lining up shots with your right hand -- optionally in the form of a finger gun -- and then cocking back to fire is both satisfying and effective.
But The Gunstringer rarely sticks to one form for long, effortlessly shifting between play-styles without lengthy tutorials or breaks in the action. At times, the game takes the shape of a simple side-scrolling platformer, or swaps to a similar perspective for boss fights in which you'll move about the screen evading attacks. Elsewhere, you'll blast enemies from behind cover, use your fists or a sword to get up close and personal, and snag a shotgun or flamethrower for some heavier firepower. And frequently, the game becomes an auto-fire rail shooter, in which you'll utilize dual pistols to rid the earth and skies alike of aggressive antagonists.
The play mechanics feel notably simplified from what an equivalent controller-based experience might entail, but such decisions keep The Gunstringer from ever feeling awkward or frustrating. And while the campaign comes across as a bit lightweight, thanks to a quick runtime (about three hours), the myriad play-styles ensure that it is lively and entertaining throughout -- plus, a friend can hop in at any time to bring a second pistol into the crossfire and share in the laughs.
What really ties The Gunstringer together and elevates a pretty good Kinect adventure into something uniformly great is its sense of humour, along with a perfectly implemented presentational approach. Aesthetically, nobody has ever tried anything quite like this, and the results are extraordinary. Establishing the concept of the game as a puppet show are live-action scenes bookending the campaign, along with over-the-top audience reaction shots interspersed within the brief and amusing missions. Add in frequent sight gags and pop culture digs, excellent narration throughout, and even an appearance from schlock hero and Troma Films co-founder Lloyd Kaufman, and the end result feels as visionary and original as any other game seen this generation.
Paired with the oodles of behind-the-scenes clips and even comedic commentary tracks from people who didn't even work on the game, The Gunstringer makes you want to be a part of Twisted Pixel's little world. Amidst constant industry talk about brutal work conditions and failing studios, every bit of this package makes it seem like these folks are having an absolute blast creating one-of-a-kind games -- and it's an infectious type of jubilance that emboldens this memorable experience into more than the sum of its parts.