Giant Bomb Review

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The Gunstringer Review

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Twisted Pixel’s plucky, “let’s put on a show!” can-do attitude has never been as prominent as it is in The Gunstringer.

Riding a rocket into the mouth of a dragon? There's an adventure metal song in here somewhere.

In the past two years, Austin, TX-based developer Twisted Pixel has gone from a no-name indie to one of the top purveyors of video-game silliness. A penchant for absurd songs and incorporating deliberately cheesy FMV has lent character to past releases, though these charms have occasionally taken priority over playability. Simultaneously Twisted Pixel’s most sophisticated and ambitious game, as well as its most amateurish and home-spun, The Gunstringer stitches Wild West handicraft, enthusiastically low-budget live-action, and simple, tactile Kinect controls into an experience that’s gleeful in its ridiculousness.

While Twisted Pixel’s incorporation of live-action video has previously been relegated to the outer edges, it’s the beating heart in The Gunstringer, which opens with the Twisted Pixel crew and a theater audience of extras preparing for a puppet show. It’s a framing device that’s weaved into the very fabric of the game, with giant, powerful, yet surprisingly baby-soft hands regularly intervening in the action, deliberately stiff and/or hammy audience reaction shots, and boss fights that are regularly viewed from the audience’s perspective. It’s not The Gunstringer’s only trick, and the game’s DIY aesthetic is as defined by a world seemingly crafted out of found household clutter as its pervasive use of FMV.

Credibly narrated by a salty fireside storyteller who is both true to the Wild West motif and in on the joke, The Gunstringer spins the tale of an outlaw marionette brought back from the dead to bring two-fisted, skeletal revenge to the gang that betrayed him. This includes a voodoo priestess, a kung-fu master carved out of jade and appropriately named The Beardmaster, a balloon-busted brothel madam, a literally pot-bellied oil baron, and the barely justified Wavy Tube Man.

The Gunstringer celebrates Dia De Los Muertos in his own, special way.

As the Gunstringer, whose squinty, slant-jawed grimace and ragged poncho more than suggest Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, you’ll perform in a series of stage plays, each taking you to a different, somewhat fantastical corner of the Wild West, and each ending in a confrontation with one of your former compadres. That the Gunstringer is a marionette isn’t just for quirkiness’ sake. It's a concept that extends to the game’s fundamental controls, which provide a little lateral movement, plus the ability to hop over certain obstacles, to what is essentially an on-rails shooter. Using your left hand to guide his movements, and your right to guide a targeting reticle that lets you paint up to six targets before kicking back in mock-recoil to trigger the shots, the controls are elegant, intuitive, and responsive--or, at least, they can be.

As with any Kinect game, it seems, The Gunstringer can require a little living-room tweaking to optimize the responsiveness and accuracy of the controls. More than lighting, or whether you’re playing the game standing or sitting, The Gunstringer seems most affected by the player's distance from the Kinect, with six to eight feet of clear space representing the sweet spot in my experience. Your mileage, of course, may vary, but once I adjusted my furniture accordingly, I found the game to be as snappy as any Kinect experience I’ve had, and the ability to play the game while seated--a significant rarity for Kinect games at this point--makes The Gunstringer more flexible than just about anything else available on the platform.

Though it represents the bulk of the action, there’s more to The Gunstringer than just running and gunning, breaking up the action with chase scenes, cover-based enemy encounters, and sequences that have you brandishing a pair of auto-firing six-shooters, a shotgun, a flamethrower, a sword, or just your bare fists. Homage to classic games like Donkey Kong, Galaga, and Duck Hunt also abounds, and though you’ll definitely see these tricks a few times over, with the boss fights feeling the most conspicuously recycled, a jaunty pace keeps the whole experience moving forward.

"You're not funny!"

For the majority of its development cycle, The Gunstringer was destined to be a downloadable Xbox Live Arcade title, and that history kind of shows in the game’s scale. You can see just about all of the sights in roughly four hours, and the guided, linear nature of the game limits the replay value somewhat. There are definitely some gags you’ll want to see more than once, and achievement hunters have good reason to revisit previous levels. That said, Twisted Pixel and publisher Microsoft have gone to pretty great lengths to ensure that there’s still plenty of value in this $40 package.

The Gunstringer brims with unlockable bonuses, including mods that can affect gameplay and aesthetics, commentary tracks from the Twisted Pixel team, the Red vs. Blue raconteurs at Rooster Teeth, and Xbox Live community czar Larry Hryb, to name a few, and behind-the-scenes videos, some of which are arguably more magical than the video that made it into the game itself. The Gunstringer also comes bundled with a download code for Fruit Ninja Kinect, a $10 value and a decent Kinect game in its own right.

The biggest bonus, though, comes in the form of the free, day-one DLC, The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles. I am not speaking in hyperbole when I say that I would pay the full price of admission here for The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles on its own. Then again, my appreciation of Mad Dog McCree, the primary source of inspiration for The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles, as well as Troma Entertainment schlockmeister Lloyd Kaufman and Dazed and Confused star Wiley Wiggins, probably runs deeper than it does in most people. Still, as a love letter to the kitchy mid-'90s FMV games to which Twisted Pixel, and The Gunstringer in particular, owes a good deal of its ironic flair, The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles is unmatched in its reverence. It’s so accurate to the source material, in fact, that it’s not that much fun to actually play, though that’s kind of the point. The only real negative I can level is that I don’t know how Twisted Pixel will be able to top this pure live-action masterpiece.

Perhaps this speaks somewhat to the overall weakness of the Kinect library at this point, but The Gunstringer is one of the most essential Kinect games I've experienced so far. It sees Twisted Pixel in top form, capitalizing on its unhinged zeal for inanity that it seems to barely be able to keep in check while deftly handling the challenge of working with the Kinect.

65 Comments
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Posted by Buttmonk3y

Might pick this up!

Posted by rjayb89

MY BODY IS READY

Posted by claudius

From what I've seen this looks like it's Twisted Pixel's best game yet. Too bad it requires a kinect else I would totally pick it up.

Posted by nickux

Holy shit, Ryan is stoked on this one! Nice review. Shame it has to be Kinect but glad to see Twisted Pixel show bigger devs how it's done!

Posted by PatVB

Dammit, I'm going to have to get a Kinect now. Also, a bigger house.

Posted by Hilfemaster

I want a quicklook of The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles

Posted by baron_calamity

I would get this if Kinect was optional.

Posted by GuyIncognito

Conflict of interest? Aren't giantbomb staff members buddies with the Twisted Pixel guys?

Edited by Hot_Karl

This is legitimately the game that'll make me buy a Kinect. And with that Kinect Zoom peripheral out, plus the bonus Child of Eden pack-in for the Kinect pack, this might actually be the time to invest in one.

@GuyIncognito said:

Conflict of interest? Aren't giantbomb staff members buddies with the Twisted Pixel guys?

Not particularly, like there was with SuperGiant Games. They reviewed Harmonix titles while Alex was still working with that company, so it's not like there are any shenanigans afoot with this review.

Posted by aceofspudz

@GuyIncognito: I don't think so? They just seem to be on the same wavelength vis a vis dumb FMV and dumb stuff in general. Which is alright.

I don't think they ever interact outside of work or are old friends, which is a good start for a conflict of interest case.

Posted by WinterSnowblind

@GuyIncognito said:

Conflict of interest? Aren't giantbomb staff members buddies with the Twisted Pixel guys?

It didn't stop them from giving Comic Jumper some very negative comments and a less than favourable review.

Twisted Pixel are excellent, it's just a shame this game requires Kinect as it'll now be their first game I don't buy.

Posted by MisterMouse

good job to the guys at twisted pixel for putting out a solid game that capitalizes on the market present.

Posted by Popogeejo

@GuyIncognito: They're friends with plenty of developers. It doesn't stop them from being objective. They didn't love Tron despite Johnny V working on it. They didn't pull punches on Alpha Protocol despite Rorie working on it.

Posted by Vinny_Says

What's this? 2 titles worth having a kinect for? Only 8 more to go!

Posted by Baltimore

If I owned a Kinect I would buy this game right away.

Posted by prestonhedges
@VinceNotVance said:

@GuyIncognito said:

Conflict of interest? Aren't giantbomb staff members buddies with the Twisted Pixel guys?

Not particularly, like there was with SuperGiant Games. They reviewed Harmonix titles while Alex was still working with that company, so it's not like there are any shenanigans afoot with this review.

Yes, clearly if you've demonstrated a conflict of interest in the past, all future ones are deemed totally innocent.
 
Anyway, I doubt it matters. Ryan loves FMV beyond all logic and reason, so it's no surprise he gave this game a good review even though it doesn't look all that fun to play as an actual video game, and Giant Bomb hasn't really been giving this game any more coverage than they normally would.
Posted by Vonocourt

Thinking about getting a Kinect just for this game, QL gave me a slight Sin and Punishment vibe. Which got me interested itself alone, so was already swaying on the fence. That Twisted Pixel charm knocked me over.

Edited by fabiosooner

@GuyIncognito said:

Conflict of interest? Aren't giantbomb staff members buddies with the Twisted Pixel guys?

Probably every gaming portal has someone who's a buddy to the Twisted Pixel guys, but this game actually doesn't need it. The 10-year-old-giggling-at-porn-magazines humor, the hype on it being 'for core gamers' (whatever that means) and the immense goodwill a company receives from the gaming press these days just for being indie was enough to make a bunch of people overlook what everyone else will realize some time after release: this game is actually a Wii launch title in HD with more 'mature' material (that is, as 'mature' as showing a cartoon cowboy sticking it in a giant crocodile can be).

This game is terribly simple, amateurish and as much a cash-in on the Kinect fad as any mainstream game; it's just coated in a paint of 'silliness' that exudes how much its makers think that 'core' gamers are absolute idiots (and to their credit, some are - such as the people who buy into EA's 'your mom hates Dead Space 2' campaign, which was incredibly childish. If you care about what your mom thinks of your games, you seriously need to grow up).

I'm shocked that so many journalists are so invested in supporting the small guy to the point of praising a game with ON RAILS PLATFORM SECTIONS. That's whole levels you traverse doing nothing but a quick flick of the hand up to jump. And no, it doesn't really matter how far or quickly you flick it. Just raise it some and the Gunstringer will jump high and far enough to cross three times the longest distance needed. It's atrociously easy and the only time you'll have a problem with it is when Kinect does not recognize your motions.

Don't believe the hype, people. It's just goodwill towards the developers, the game itself is utterly forgettable. If you want to get a Kinect, there's better reasons out there, be it getting some exercise for those who don't have time to go to the gym, enjoying the beauty that Child of Eden is, or revisiting the (actually funny) silliness of House of the Dead with more immersion and satisfaction in Rise of Nightmares.

Posted by Dallas_Raines

@Popogeejo:

Not to mention the reviews for Comic Jumper and Ms. Splosion Man.

Posted by GuyIncognito

@Dallas_Raines said:

@Popogeejo:

Not to mention the reviews for Comic Jumper and Ms. Splosion Man.

Comic Jumper got 4/5 despite having admittedly terrible gameplay.

Posted by sirdesmond

I was sold after playing the demo. It's just downright hilarious, even if the gameplay isn't super amazing-awesome. It's still fun, but that atmosphere and style clinched it for me.

Posted by zombie2011

The QL sold me on this game it looks really fun.

Posted by Duffman

Glad to see that Twisted Pixel isn't losing it. The reaction to Ms. Splosion Man and Comic Jumper had me worried that they were trying too hard.

Posted by BabyChooChoo

@fabiosooner: God forbid they actually like the game...

Posted by bybeach

This game looked really cool in the QL-ex. From what I see, probably as good as it will get for the Kinnect, though I would not being wrong. I do not own one so...

Posted by Knetic2341

I am sold on this game, it is the reason I have waited on FNK. Gunstringer seems like a great deal.

Posted by GuyIncognito

@BabyChooChoo said:

@fabiosooner: God forbid they actually like the game...

I don't know if they like the game. They like the humor and style...on the other hand, you'd be paying $40 for a few laughs.

Posted by IkariNoTekken

Ryan, not sure whether you'll read the comments but if you happen to - I'm wondering how much of Twisted Pixel's Comic Jumper you played. I found it very noticeable in the quick look of The Gunstringer that some of the game was essentially a re-skinned version of that game.

A few moments that stood out in particular are; 1. when the camera zooms in close behind your character and you are only controlling the aiming of the gun reticles, 2. when you are falling and attempting to shoot things on the way down and 3. when the camera spins around to a 2d side scrolling perspective. On all of these occasions not only does the perspective look identical to that of Comic Jumper but also the animations. As a fan of Twisted Pixel's previous work (and one of a few that enjoyed Comic Jumper) I was extremely disappointed by what I saw, if possible could you let me know how much these moments make up the 4 hour experience and whether there is a lot of repetition? At the moment I just feel as though I've done it all before; just as a superhero with a talking star on his chest instead of a skeleton cowboy.

Other that that it seems like a good offering for Kinect owners.

Posted by phantomzxro
@WinterSnowblind said:

@GuyIncognito said:

Conflict of interest? Aren't giantbomb staff members buddies with the Twisted Pixel guys?

It didn't stop them from giving Comic Jumper some very negative comments and a less than favourable review.

Twisted Pixel are excellent, it's just a shame this game requires Kinect as it'll now be their first game I don't buy.

 
Well i don't know about a less favorable review it did get a 4/5 which is a bit high to me. They shit on deathspank way more then comic jumper which got a 3/5 and i think that is a better game as far as gameplay wise.  I wanted to love comic jumper because the humor and ideas in that game are great but the gameplay was just not good at all.
Posted by 234r2we232

Excuse me for questioning Giant Bomb and Twisted Pixel games, but they may have given that utter abomination of a game; Comic Jumper, 4 stars also. This is what happens when hipsters making games and casual pandering journalism collide. I can't imagine this game is good and not different to Comic Jumper in any gameplay changing sense... well, it's for Kinect (actually, that sounds less appealing than a Comic Jumper sequel!). Low-grade shovelware from a "hip indie developer" is still shovelware. Charming FMV sequences or not.
 
Obviously I'm not going to stop anyone from buying anything but for a moment think about the better things you can do with your money. For example: giving it to a homeless man, or just burning it. 

Posted by phantomzxro

I would not say this game will blow anybody away or feel worth 40 bucks in price But this looks to be one of the few titles for the kinect that are well put together. So if you need a kinect game this some to win hands down.
Posted by tourgen

great, pretty cool to see some decent kintect action.  I like some of the different environments and the oddball movie / puppet show vibe.

Edited by m0nty

Judging by comments I think people forget that reviews are opinions. You can't be wrong when voicing your opinion. Kinect game or not, FMV or not, Twisted Pixel or not. There are no wrong answers. Criticism of a review is an opinion of an opinion. Just like Ryan isn't wrong for his review, neigh Sayers aren't wrong for their review of his comments. Unless they straight up just say "Ryan is talking shit". At which point the counter argument is moot. This constant analysis of the scoring is juvenile too. Must every sentence start with "in my opinion" and 4/5 stars "in my opinion"?

Posted by CowsWithGuns

Glad its good.

Posted by Hot_Karl
@gladspooky Appreciate the sarcasm, but I was just saying that Giant Bomb is anything but a website where conflict of interest is a rampant issue. There's precedence for that in the past.
Posted by Hameyadea

I'm not too impressed with the game.

Posted by Milkman

This is the one game that makes me wish I had a Kinect.

Posted by ThePickle

@WinterSnowblind said:

@GuyIncognito said:

Conflict of interest? Aren't giantbomb staff members buddies with the Twisted Pixel guys?

It didn't stop them from giving Comic Jumper some very negative comments and a less than favourable review.

A 4/5 is less than favorable?

Posted by ectoplasma

4* seems to be the new gold standart ;).

Posted by suicidepacmen

Another 4 star review..

Posted by prestonhedges
@HandsomeDevil said:

@WinterSnowblind said:

@GuyIncognito said:

Conflict of interest? Aren't giantbomb staff members buddies with the Twisted Pixel guys?

It didn't stop them from giving Comic Jumper some very negative comments and a less than favourable review.

A 4/5 is less than favorable?

A 4/5 means anywhere from total dogshit to the best game ever made, didn't you know?
Edited by GaspoweR

To the guy who made the comment about burning money, why would that actually be a GOOD idea?

Anyway, its Ryan's review and opinion, and he enjoyed the game so why would that be not justified. They'll review it with how they enjoyed it and not just because they're friends with the developers.

Edited by beard_of_zeus

This game seems super duper rad (as is the majority of the Twisted Pixel catalog), but I don't know if there's anything that will actually get me to buy a Kinect. Having a small apartment with limited space doesn't help matters much, either.
 
That Wavy Tube Man Chronicles DLC sounds amazing, though. I'm glad to see Twisted Pixel really flex those FMV muscles of theirs. A Quick Look of it would be pretty cool, eh? ;)

Posted by Sammo21

I'm having issues playing this...doesn't seem very accurate in its reading of hands...also my arms literally get tired holding them out for so long lol. Hard to know how to take this review as Comic Jumper got 4/5 for only its humor and FMVs...

Posted by Undeadpool

"I don't like this game and someone else does! There must be a CONSPIRACY!!!!11" Seriously, folks? It's not enough that the GB guys are "terrible" at games, now they're in cahoots with developers to sell you a crap product? Take it to a crystal skull board, please.

Also am I the only one getting a very "Tin Star" vibe from this game?

Edited by Chris2KLee

I liked the quick look, but unfortunately space issues currently keep me from getting a kinect.

Also, looking around the net shows most review falling in the four star range. So either Twisted Pixel payed off a lot of sites or they might have made a game people, you know, like.

Posted by spilledmilkfactory

Just picked up a Kinect with Child of Eden, Rise of Nightmares, and this. Only played RoN so far, and even only a little of that because the setup in my apartment isn't ideal for that kind of thing, and there's this one section early on that's completely impossible because the Kinect can barely see my legs. But I digress.. I'm really looking forward to diving into this

Edited by iAmJohn

@VinceNotVance said:

@GuyIncognito said:

Conflict of interest? Aren't giantbomb staff members buddies with the Twisted Pixel guys?

Not particularly, like there was with SuperGiant Games. They reviewed Harmonix titles while Alex was still working with that company, so it's not like there are any shenanigans afoot with this review.

To be fair, I feel like the fact that Alex lent some content to the game, even though he did it when he was working primarily for Screened and barely contributing to Giant Bomb and mostly as a favor for a friend, kind of complicates that. Not saying that invalidates the review or anything, but Ryan probably should have put that as a disclaimer now that Alex is basically a full-time Giant Bomb staffer.

Posted by samcotts

I really wish 3 stars equaled "good" instead of 4 stars. I don't see the point of having 2 positive and 3 negative (4 is you count 0 stars) scores on the scale when the positive end is going to be used a lot more. 4 stars means nothing to me at this point.

Not to be another person complaining about it though...

Posted by iAmJohn

@samcotts said:

I really wish 3 stars equaled "good" instead of 4 stars. I don't see the point of having 2 positive and 3 negative (4 is you count 0 stars) scores on the scale when the positive end is going to be used a lot more. 4 stars means nothing to me at this point.

Not to be another person complaining about it though...

What about the part where 3 stars does and has always equated to "good," and Ryan just thinks the game is deserving of 4 stars?

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