This weekend, Jason brought home a copy of The Gunstringer, borrowed from a co-worker. I had not really heard anything about it (let’s face it, I’m out of the loop game-wise as I find game websites annoying, and conventions like PAX are essentially one of the deepest pits of Hell, as far as I’m concerned. Stinky AND crowded? Wait in line for anything and everything? Near-riots for t-shirts and anything else being given away for free? Dudes cutting in front of me in line to play a game because my vagina makes me invisible? Oh boy, when does the fun start!? Can you believe I PAID to get in here?!!?) except for a marketing email from Microsoft, which immediately rendered me suspicious. Microsoft does a poor job marketing games to their consumers, especially with the wealth of information they have. Yes, I have a Kinect, and you can see I’ve spent a lot of time playing Dance Central–that does NOT mean I’m the target market for Kinect Sports. You can see my game library, Microsoft. I don’t own any sports games, so odds are I’m not a fan of the genre, even if I enjoy dancing around like an asshole in the game room. The marketing email for The Gunstringer told me the game has:
*Multiplayer in-room co-op action *A full suite of collectibles, unlockables, rewards, and more *The first game to support seated Kinect gameplay *Offers a free add-on pack, the Wavy Tube Man Chronicles *Includes a code for the full downloadable version of Fruit Ninja Kinect
That’s it. Essentially this marketing email told me that there was nothing to tell me about this game. In fact, one of the only selling points they found for it was that it includes a DIFFERENT game. When people whose entire job revolves around making consumers want a product can’t find a single thing to say, it conveys an extremely negative impression. So my overall hopes for the game weren’t high.
Then we played it. I was immediately charmed: by the premise, by the narration, by the art direction. You play as a marionette (who is unaware that he is a marionette), out for revenge against his former posse who wronged him–and each act of his revenge is part of a play viewed by an audience, who cheers your successes and boos your failures. As such, each level is constructed to look like a set full of props–trees are made of corrugated cardboard, paper towel tubes, and lincoln logs, cattle are
beercans with horns, and your trusty steed is a pushpin with a felt head and yarn hair.
The story was well-written and very funny; Jason and I cracked up laughing a number of times while playing. The end of the story was executed very cleverly, and left us howling with laughter. The narration, like recognizing prop materials, served to increase the feeling that you’re performing in a play, unlike the narration in Bastion, which I found annoying.
The game itself is rather short, no matter how sweet–we played through in a couple of play sessions. Although it’s marketed as a multiplayer game, the second player only serves to aid the first player, and there are several levels where the second player is left standing idle while the first player gets all of the action.
The control scheme generally feels natural. I felt the Kinect recognized our movements better while standing than while seated, however, and those who have arranged their living rooms to have enough playspace for dancing and sports games may find that the Kinect cannot see them at all when they’re back on the couch. Navigating menus was a bit wonky, especially in the bonus store section–you need to hover your hand over an item to read the description, but hovering also initiates purchase, so it’s hard to see what something is before you buy it. Granted, players will usually end up buying most everything eventually regardless, but since players are offered their choice, it would be better if the game more easily facilitated making discerning choices.
Overall, I really enjoyed playing The Gunstringer–its humor and style has led me to seek out other titles by Twisted Pixel, and I’ll more than likely acquire a copy for myself in order to do another playthrough on hardcore mode. Gunstringer is proof that fun games CAN be made for Kinect, and in my opinion, MS did this game a huge disservice by trying to sell it as the same old crap. This game made me like a PUPPET, and that is damn remarkable.