September 13, 2011

Review – The Gunstringer

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Jamie Love @ 1:21 pm

Review The Gunstringer
His name had once sent chills through the Internet – the one who sharpened words for weapons and sought to bring meaning to an insensible and lawless land. Along the way, he’d tackled every genre, never backing away from the challenge to ply his trade across every console.

They called him, The Reviewer…

But the years had taken a heavy toll, and he’d eventually succumbed to the sins and excesses of his profession. The Reviewer had sunk into a world where the pixels were as cheap and lifeless as the jaded opinions of the cynics surrounding him at the local haunts, where the only topic of discussion was the good ol’ days of gaming thought long gone.

And though The Reviewer seemed destined to fade away with the last traces of optimism that had led him down this road, it seemed that fate had other plans. Stumbling home one night, he discovered a mysterious package at his door, and tearing it open revealed a copy of The Gunstringer.

Setting skepticism aside, The Reviewer placed the disc into his aging Xbox, which sparked to life with a dull whirring kick like an angry mule. And within five minutes of waving his hands before the glow of the television, The Reviewer felt the old spark within his chest, and knew that it was finally time to write again…

Review The Gunstringer
Perhaps I got a bit carried away with that introduction.

You’ll have to blame my burst of enthusiasm on Twisted Pixel, and the curious effect their parody of Western film trappings has had; where the fun they so obviously had in creating their humorous trip through the spaghetti western is both immediately apparent, and infectious.

Well fed on the modern framework of the revenge narrative so often integral to the Western genre, The Gunstringer rises from the grave to bring justice to the posse that left him for dead.

And while the aged leather of the Western has been stretched thin for other videogames, Twisted Pixel leaves no cow un-milked as it were, grabbing at every thread familiar to film audiences, with every expected trope trotted out for a chance to taste The Gunstringer’s lead. From the crooked sheriff to the oil baron, from showgirls to eastern mystics, from stampeding herds of cattle to the strange but tender love that sometimes occurs between a lumberjack and a crocodile, Twisted Pixel hits all the notes needed to play my love of the subject matter like a finely tuned fiddle.

Review The Gunstringer
Given the pull that caused me to disavow my general laziness to continually fling my arms wildly in front of the television, not enough good words can be said about the presentation. The entire game is blanketed by narration, where a grizzled voice fills in for the strong and silent Gunstringer, informing players of the backstory driving each stage of the journey; each adversary waiting to receive lethal justice.

There are plenty of times where that voice mingles with the music, and the atmosphere achieves a state of Western Zen. But there are also clever uses for that voice, particularly the ability it gains to inform players naturally, without interrupting the flow of the game.

If a player is stuck behind cover for instance, that voice will suddenly come to life, and say something along the lines of “The Gunstringer would have to lean out from cover to hit his targets.” At other times, that same voice will find means to pat the player on the back for hitting six targets at once, or in turn acknowledge when players took a hit from enemies and/or environmental obstacles.

Review The Gunstringer
Each stage of The Gunstringer’s journey begins the same way, asking players to lift their left hand to raise the marionette strings of this hellish undead cowboy, which quickly throws him into action. Players control The Gunstringer’s ability to strafe left and right with the left hand while automatically moving forward, flipping quickly to jump. In turn, the right hand acts as a pistol that will lock on multiple targets, where a quick flip of the right wrist will riddle enemies with bullets.

There’s a formula that quickly unfolds in the attempt to break up the on-rail action. Some sections of the game place The Gunstringer behind cover, allowing him to target enemies and lean out from side to side to fire. Still other sections have him suddenly running from moving objects, or free-falling while dodging environmental dangers and shooting targets.

The Gunstringer also offers more traditional on-rail sections, where players use both hands as dual pistols to kill everything in sight as a wealth of enemies emerge. And the game even experiments with side-scrolling sections, where players control the ability to jump and fire while automatically moving up a series of platforms. Boss battles also focus on side-scrolling affairs, using the fixed background to leave players free to dodge patterned attacks while waiting for a chance to unload their pistol.

Review The Gunstringer
Twisted Pixel mixes these elements to stretch the limits of Kinect’s on-rail limitations, and there’s every reason to believe that despite how they mix and match the segments, eventually the game will run out of steam and leave you grinding toward the end.

Aside from the prologue and epilogue book-ending the experience, there are four primary areas where these segments grab at the strength of the thematic structure behind each villain in an attempt to keep the play fresh. And while the game’s tricks quickly become familiar and routine, that thematic variance keeps stages interesting until the end – greatly aided by the fact that the visual details of the game are so continually interesting; pogo stick horses, cattle made from cans that spray when shot, a never-ending supply of dynamite to blow-up the landscape real good, strange Duckhunt cameos; the list goes on and on.

There are times when I’m a bit too enthusiastic and my arms need downtime, breaking from the strain to keep taco fueled kill steaks going. There are also times where the path players need to tread requires a very steady hand, and a few occasions where mine simple isn’t up to the task. It isn’t hard to get hit in this game, but the game, in turn, is awfully forgiving about it, offering plenty of opportunities to regain health and directly continue following player death. If that sounds a little too soft, the game also offers a hardcore mode for seasoned quick-draws.

Review The Gunstringer
So why stick up for an on-rail game I’d normally knock? It’s the energy of the title, the effort to create something that delivers a multidimensional experience – aided further by the layered humor of the stage performance where this marionette action plays out and the most ridiculously satisfying ending to a game in recent memory unfolds.

And it’s a stand-out title on the Kinect, but since that may not be a glowing statement given the options on the shelves, I’ll add that checking it out would go a long way to validating your Kinect ownership. The game offers an open environment for casuals that is immediately intuitive and inviting, along with unlockable modes and drop in two-player co-op to experiment with, all while giving more seasoned gamers a fundamental shooting experience that merits replay.

If none of these arguments motivate you to check the title out however, the game also includes a free download of Fruit Ninja – and really, who are you to resist that?

Twisted Pixel Games


Xbox 360 (Kinect)

Singleplayer, Local Co-op

Release Date
September 13, 2011

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review


  1. How much does this game cost? That’s the real question here…

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — September 15, 2011 @ 6:49 pm

  2. $39.99

    Comment by Jamie Love — September 15, 2011 @ 7:24 pm

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