There’s an important distinction to be made between analysing and criticising a Kinect game and simply reviewing the hardware over and over again. As the first real attempt at a hands-free controller that can work with both casual and core games, of course there are going to be problems. But the thing we must surely focus on is the ways in which developers work around the limitations of the hardware, rather than simply pointing out every time a Kinect game comes in for review that the motion tracking can go a little squiffy at times.
And so the curtain rises on Twisted Pixel’s first motion-controlled effort and although the indie studio has proven its ability to send up gaming conventions while backing up its mocking laughs with rock solid game design of its own, Kinect offers something to really test the developer’s mettle. And for the most part, The Gunstringer’s implementation is perfectly serviceable, the left hand generally used to move the titular marionette and the right used to paint targets before an explosive flick of the wrist (mimicking revolver kickback) sends them all to the great prop department in the sky. Movement can occasionally feel a touch sluggish, but Twisted Pixel makes allowances for this with more than fair warning during platforming sections and some degree of assistance elsewhere when things get tough. Indeed, only when you fall back out to the clumsy menus do you really appreciate how good a job the team has done to make control feel natural in-game.
A few elements, like the infrequent fisticuffs or sword-wielding sections, feel a little shoehorned in just to introduce new gestures, but they do at least serve their purpose in breaking up the action… even if they’re hardly captivating on a gameplay level. Far better is The Gunstringer’s primary conceit of the whole game being a stage show and while this occasionally becomes lost in more frenzied, videogamey moments, a mix of audience cuts and far cleverer boss battles bring the budget production angle screaming back to the fore. It’s here that Twisted Pixel’s zany humour really shines through, with dynamic narration adding yet more character.
The main concern surely hangs over whether or not The Gunstringer deserves to be a retail product, at least any more so than more focused stablemates like Comic Jumper. Chucking in a free copy of Fruit Ninja almost feels desperate – for what it’s worth, the game might as well just come with a free bouncy ball – and while Twisted Pixel’s inimitable style might be in full effect, the decision to promote this from a downloadable game (where its status as a Kinect must-have would have been assured) to a full retail release may well come back to bite Microsoft in the ass. Still, it might not be the most robust or laugh-out-loud funny game in Twisted Pixel’s catalogue but based on entertainment value, ingenuity and the way the game works around Kinect’s foibles rather than pushing its luck and falling down, it’d be downright criminal to deny the talented studio those few dollars more.