The Gunstringer Preview (Xbox360)

The Gunstringer might just be one of the first properly viable hardcore Kinect experiences I’ve played. Coming from Twisted Pixel, the developer behind Splosion Man and Comic Jumper, the XBLA developer announced at E3 that their latest title is set to make the jump to disc, aiming to hit both the hardcore gamers with a Kinect title and the casual with something a bit different to the sports, fitness and dance titles they’re used to.

What are you looking at?
The Gunstringer is essentially a Starfox-style rail shooter which sees you play as a little cowboy skeleton puppet. The puppet angle allows Twisted Pixel to encourage players to hold out their right hand like they’re gripping the cross-shaped control item puppeteers use – and shifting your left hand left and right moves the Gunstringer around on screen. A quick flick of the wrist up makes him jump and so on – it’s simple and easy to do.

The shooting, likewise, takes advantage of the basic setup of the character – the fact he’s a cowboy. Your right hand controls an aiming reticule on screen. You use that to paint targets as they appear – as they’re painted red circles appear over the enemy accompanied by a satisfying noise – and then you mimic shooting with your right hand when you’re ready to shoot.

You literally have to do the very classic ‘BANG, BANG’ movement with your arm. The quicker you do it, the quicker the Gunstringer will fire – and some of these levels get pretty intense with enemies appearing all over the place.

The controls are tight and precise and like a lot of demos at E3 seem to demonstrate quite clearly that the Kinect SDKs have been improved tenfold. There’s still a little lag present, but it really doesn’t feel like it’s enough to actually be a problem, and it’s definitely massively improved. For a game that can get as hectic as this, the little lag there was didn’t feel like a problem.
Being a skeleton and everything, you think he'd be less concerned with getting shot...

As somebody who loves me a good rail shooter, be it Starfox or Panzer Dragoon or even something like Time Crisis, I really enjoyed how The Gunstringer handled. By the end of the (frankly massive) level my gun arm was beginning to tire a little from my over-zealous, desperate firing motions, but I also know if I’d just calmed down a little I could’ve used more reserved motions to shoot.

In addition to the base shooting there are a few other moves – you can melee up close and slam the ground with various fairly obvious gestures, but the core of the main levels is shooting. Of course, the game can be played sitting or standing – but really, you’ll want to pull up the couch and play sitting down for this one.

On show for the first time at E3 was a new style of gameplay – full-on platforming. When not rail shooting you’ll take control of the Gunstringer in classic 2D platform sections – avoiding obstacles and enemies, jumping over pits and threats as you would in an old-school game. It works well, and occasionally can switch perspective to allow for some more third person shooting.

Being a Twisted Pixel game all the ridiculous stuff you’d expect is in – there’s decent amounts of weird live action stuff showing up in the game – at one point in the levels I played, human hands were dropping enemies down into the level, indicating that perhaps in the story this really is a bunch of puppets at play.
What is this I don't even...

Having made the jump from XBLA to a full-blown disc title the really interesting question here is just how much content the modest team at Twisted Pixel will manage to cram into the game. Hopefully the answer is a lot, but what I played already was satisfying, cool, and might give me a real reason other than Forza 4 to dust off my Kinect. The Gunstringer will be out later this year for the 360.

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