At their own Xbox 360 event, Microsoft looked a little anemic on Kinect titles. Other than Child of Eden and Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster, the big surprise was The Gunstringer, an upcoming XBLA on-rails shooter from the minds of Twisted Pixel. A puppet's journey for revenge, The Gunstringer tells the story of an undead marionette in an on-rails shooter.
But wait, there's more: Gunslinger is actually a puppet show performed on stage in the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas. Between gameplay sections, the developers of Twisted Pixel act as the audience cheering the game along. Twisted Pixel has never been afraid to incorporate real images into their games, and The Gunstringer uses this touch throughout. It’s a unique and fascinating quality, providing a thematic thread for the actions the player themselves perform as if they were puppet masters in a real performance.
When controlling the Gunstringer, players use their left hand to move left and right; up pulls him upward. On screen, the strings drag him along, and a marionette cross floats across the screen. With their right hand, players can highlight enemies and shootable objects, yanking their hand up too shoot. Players can also slam their fist down, and a real human hand will smash into the ground. Tacos can be collected to send Gunstringer into an overdrive mode, shooting much faster. Even better, the game is playable sitting down, although controlling the Gunstringer was a little squirrely from that position.
An on-rails shooter, The Gunstringer does play a bit like Child of Eden, but the look and feel of the title are vastly different. Enemies are western-themed puppets, trees and objects are nothing more than flat background scenery propped up, and the game feels a lot like it's on stage. There are moments where the puppet will hide behind cover, causing spotlights to show up like on stage. Boss characters are just as goofy, with the first boss amounting to nothing more than a wavy armed tube man. Other bosses include a busty can-can dancer and an Asian kung-fu master.
As mentioned, the theater motif runs throughout the game, and players will be treated with end level applause and even theater reviews from publications. It’s a cute direction to take the game, and the intersection between real FMV and in-game art is surprisingly easy to appreciate. Like every other Twisted Pixel game, the polish applied to The Gunstringer is considerable, and with a few more months before release, there is plenty of time to work out any kinks in the gameplay. Visually and thematically charming, The Gunstringer looks to be one of the most impressive titles from the company. Kinect support is icing on the cake.