Game Review: 'The Gunstringer'

When Microsoft first announced its Kinect add-on for the Xbox 360, which translates physical motion into on-screen gameplay via a set of cameras, I paid little heed.  After all, a novelty controller like the Kinect wouldn't lend itself to hardcore gaming, never mind the horror genre.

Of course, I've been wrong before: Nintendo's family-friendly Wii was a surprising haven for horror, including House of the Dead: Overkill and Calling, as well as a handful of others.  So here I sit, writing my second review for a Kinect title (the first being SEGA's Rise of Nightmares) that has proven me wrong yet again: Twisted Pixel's The Gunstringer.

The game has you taking up the tiny Stetson and boots of the titular Gunstringer, an undead marionette out for vengeance against his puppet posse that shot him dead and buried him in the desert.  With a Howdy Doody physique and a Clint Eastwood scowl, the Gunstringer is certainly a unique looking character, and the game is no different.  Unlike most Kinect games that track the entire body, Gunstringer only uses your hands: your left hand holds the puppet's virtual strings and controls movement and jumping, whereas the right hand fires your trusty six-shooter with a childlike finger gun movement.  There are times when these controls change (including satisfying scenes that have you wielding your guns akimbo like Inspector Tequila) but they're simple, responsive, and logical.  Instead of aiming and firing in the traditional fashion, your aim "paints" your target and a simple snap of the hand back to your shoulder—like a virtual recoil—sends the lead flying.  It's similar to Red Dead Redemption's "Dead Eye" targeting in concept and execution, although with the added goofiness that the motion control brings.

Of course, that goofiness is just as omnipresent in the game's overall presentation.  You know you're going into strange territory when your first boss is a wavy-arm inflatable tube man (named Wavy Tube Man, appropriately enough) who tries to crush you with his flailing, air-filled extremities.  Yes, those fixtures you see outside of auto shops and that Family Guy bit are your first boss battle.  The strangeness doesn't let up from there (this is the same developer as ‘Splosion Man, of course) with our murderous marionette facing off against corrupt Muppets, oil-drum oil barons, and rope-armed brawlers, all on a literal puppet stage, complete with live-action audience watching (and commentating) on the action.

Of course, all throughout this review, you may be asking yourself "why should I care?  This doesn't seem much like horror at all!"  You'd be partially right: the game itself never quite falls into pure horror territory (although the near-skeletal voodoo priestess brings a heaping share of creepiness…if you find napkin ghosts creepy), but the self-aware goofiness and slightly slipshod production values smack of a Troma production, which makes perfect sense given the involvement of Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman.

As we reported before, Twisted Pixel roped Kaufman into providing his inimitable services to the game, and Uncle Lloyd provides in spades.  Not only does he prove to be a highlight towards the end of the game, but he also adds his charm to the game's first (and free!) DLC, The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles, which pays tribute to video-based shooter games like Mad Dog McCree while showcasing Lloyd in what I'm fairly certain is a woman's blouse.  That's worth the cost of admission alone!

Thankfully, The Gunstringer offers more than just Lloyd Kaufman in light drag.  It's a fun, original romp that refuses to take itself seriously while offering yet another reason to keep your eye on the Kinect.