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The Gunstringer Is a Retail Game Now, But Is It Any Good?

In which Alex attempts to make objective judgments about a game his name appears in.

Let's just push this bit of business out of the way right up front: my name appears in The Gunstringer. Twisted Pixel's lead designer on the project, a surly, vaguely unattractive Australian by the name of Dan Teasdale, is someone I've worked alongside in my sordid past. Part of the game's grading system involves "review quotes" from various "critics." According to Teasdale's site blog on the subject, he apparently wanted a "likable jerk" to help provide quotes. Evidently, he first thought of me, which I guess is sweet. Sort of.

The only thing more terrifying than skeletons with guns is Dan Teasdale's haircut.
The only thing more terrifying than skeletons with guns is Dan Teasdale's haircut.

Anyway, I sent him a bunch of fake review quotes to use in the game. I did this entirely gratis, as it'd probably be something of a conflict of interest to be paid for such work. Plus, I like dangling favors like this over people's heads, calling in return favors at the most inopportune and uncomfortable times. And, I get to say I contributed to a game alongside a personal hero of mine in Troma Films founder Lloyd Kaufman, who also submitted some alarmingly bizarre quotes. Seemed worth potentially tarnishing my good name.

Now that you know all of this information, you may now marvel as I attempt to actually make objective judgments about The Gunstringer, based on my first attempt at playing it at this year's E3. The unpleasant Australian man himself is at the Microsoft booth demoing the game, and despite my general reluctance toward being in the same room as him, my curiosity toward this bizarre product I've lent my name to got the best of me.

If you're unaware of the game's premise, here's the quick and dirty version. The game is a puppet show. Almost literally. All the game's action takes place on a "stage," complete with a live action video audience that the game will periodically cut away to for reaction shots and applause/boos. Your character, the titular Gunstringer, is a skeletal cowboy on a mission for revenge. All the action is built into Microsoft's Kinect sensor, with your left hand controlling the "strings" of the Gunstringer, and the right controlling the gun. Movements are generally simple, requiring you to direct your left hand left, or right to move the Gunstringer, and up to make him jump. To shoot, you simply point your right hand at the screen, and cock it back to fire.

The entire game is on rails, so all you need to worry about is dodging, jumping, and shooting. One section of the game I saw being played by someone else did involve some side-scrolling gameplay, with a good deal of jumping and obstacle dodging, though still while on rails.

The question with any Kinect game at this point in the technology's lifespan generally tends to be, "Do the controls work?" Good news: yes. I've heard from some that previous builds of the game played a little loose, with more latency between your movements and the in-game reactions than you'd tend to want. I experienced nothing of the sort in the latest E3 build. The controls felt appropriately sensitive, and the Gunstringer would react to my movements with appropriate levels of sensitivity to my admittedly violent gesticulations. It feels good, and best of all? You can play sitting down.

I can't tell you how badly I've wanted to put a whole mess of bullets into one of these things.
I can't tell you how badly I've wanted to put a whole mess of bullets into one of these things.

The game will, of course, feature Twisted Pixel's trademark brand of absurdist, borderline sociopathic humor. You'll be fighting everything from murderous wobbly arms puppets to unholy cross-breedings between lumberjacks and alligators. Apparently there's a pretty good, too-long sex scene between a lumberjack and an alligator somewhere in the game, so that's super hot.

Take these opinions with as many grains of salt as you please. My closeness to the game obviously prevents me from ever reviewing the final product, but I was honestly just curious to get my hands on the thing after all these months of emails filled with abject cursing and ludicrous legal threats between myself and Mr. Teasdale. And I honestly came away digging it. Today's news that The Gunstringer would move from the realm of Xbox Live Arcade to a final retail product is an interesting one, though Teasdale did say to me that they are planning on fleshing the game out with more content in anticipation of the retail release. At least, that's what I inferred from the series of the dismissive wanking motions he kept making every time I'd ask a question.

We'll bring you more on The Gunstringer as it gets closer to release. Though I probably won't. Not until Teasdale makes good on that favor, at least. Any suggestions on what kind of horrible thing I can make him do? I'm thinking some kind of secret murder on my behalf.

Alex Navarro on Google+