We love Twisted Pixel here at Dealspwn, and with good reason. After all, this is the studio behind 'Splosion Man, The Maw and, obviously, Ms. 'Splosion Man too. Their previous games have all shared in cartoonish visuals and humour, seemingly angled aesthetically towards a younger audience, but delighting older, more savvy gamers too. And so it is with The Gunstringer, arriving on Kinect to prove that not only can on-rails games be fun, but they can be challenging, inventive and chuckleworthy too.
Progression forwards and backwards, from traversing open plains to close-quarters, crate-covered combat, is handled by the game itself, but that's pretty much it. By positioning your left hand horizontally, as if you were manipulating a puppet, you can move the eponymous hero left and right - a swift jerk of the arm upwards making him leap fallen logs and rampant boulders. When crouched behind cover, lateral movements are again controlled via one's left hand, six-shot sharpshooting controlled by the right.
Armed with your trusty pistol - and fret not, there are other weapons from shotguns to flamethrowers littered throughout the game's missions - your right hand is used to 'paint' up to six targets, a swift jerk of the hand, as if the imaginary gun you hold were to recoil, triggering the Gunstringer's deadly dispatch.
It's a testament to Twisted Pixel's skill that these controls are as tight as you could wish for, painting targets never becomes a fiddly and cumbersome chore, and yet the game reacts so instantaneously to your pretend recoil that you wonder if they might be able to to teach a few other would-be Kinect developers how to use the all-seeing mega-camera to its fullest potential. Through The Gunstringer you begin to realise that Kinect really is capable of considerable precision, and it does it in such an offhand manner that you could be forgiven for accusing the developers of showboating.
There are side-scrolling 2D platforming sections where the game will take over and you'll have to jump over exploding barrels and traverse gaps, much like Mario did decades earlier. But it's in the 3D areas that the game really comes alive. I found myself dodging boulders, strafing enemy fire whilst painting outlaws red with my sidearm, leaping logs and wild goats. The control system looked confusing when I watched another play the game, with the slightest amount of lag visible as a mere observer, But get in front of the camera and it feels superbly fluid and, most importantly, instantly intuitive. When the game finally gives you two revolvers at the end of one of the levels you might well, as I did, cackle with utter joy.
The stage is literally set in a little theatre, the game presented as a marionette show retelling the life and times of the titular Gunstringer, with the odd nod to movie Westerns - a sparse and dusty soundtrack, a dry narrator with a voice made from ground pebbles and zoomed camera freeframes on new enemies, complete with a gunshot echo and a one line, tongue-in-cheek bio to boot. The sets around which our hero gallivants are all decked out with cardboard cut-out scenery, enemies that fall from the sky and obstacles placed in your way by a giant hand. When you triumph over adversity, the game cuts to an applauding audience.
The game will consist of four 'plays', each with multiple levels or 'acts', and it supports co-operative play as well. The game isn't afraid to shake things up either, cutting between the aforementioned 2D and 3D levels, handing you new toys to play with, and one of the levels I played featured the Gunstringer engaging in a spot of hand to hand combat, with me flinging punches at thin air, trying to out-batter my opponent.
Remember when you used to run around with your index and middle fingers out, thumb cocked back, ring and pinky clenched tightly, pretending to be James Bond or a cop or a robber or, more pertinently, a cowboy? Well this game brings back that childish glee.
But is it enough to justify the full retail price now? True, most Kinect games go for full whack these days, but games that have made the jump from a smaller price tag to a larger one have often been met with hostility through no real fault of their own (Halo 3: ODST anyone?). The game will ship with a download code for the full version of Fruit Ninja Kinect, which Jon recently rated very highly indeed, and there will, Twisted Pixel assure us, be a wealth of unlockables. For what may very well be the most genuinely enjoyable, impressive Kinect game yet, the price might just be worth it.