The Gunstringer Aims For Good Kinect Control (And Hits Its Target)S

Twisted Pixel's new shooter for the Xbox 360, The Gunstringer, might make you feel better about Kinect controls. It is, after all, a Kinect game you can play while sitting down.

The makers of Splosion Man, The Maw and Comic Jumper aim to establish the "marionetting-based platformer/shooter" genre with The Gunstringer, an Xbox Live Arcade game exclusive to Kinect. This motion-controlled action adventure feels like games you've played before, with a little on-rails Panzer Dragoon style shooting, some Crash Bandicoot 3D platforming and the promise of 2D Donkey Kong-esque barrel jumping. Much of what we played involved running forward, viewing the Gunstringer from behind as he shoots his way through banditos and their bullets.

Our hands-on demo of The Gunstringer started with something rarely seen in new video games, live action video. We followed a theater goer as she enters the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas. Then we see a group of puppeteers setting up the evening's performance, a real marionette (created by the Jim Henson company folks at Puppet Kitchen) version of the game's hero. That video sets up The Gunstringer's premise, a puppet play that puts the player in the role of a stagehand performing marionette duties.

The Gunstringer Aims For Good Kinect Control (And Hits Its Target)S

The story of The Gunstringer is Western-revenge tale, a touch of A Fistful of Dollars, a dash of Kill Bill. You control the titular Gunstringer, a skeletal cowboy puppet buried alive and left for dead, shooting his way to revenge against his betrayers.

Players control his movements as if he were as agile as a marionette. Using their left hand, players can move the Gunstringer left and right as he runs forward, pulling him up with a lift of that hand to jump over crates, rocks and fences. The right hand is used for aiming. Paint targets with an onscreen reticule that resembles a revolver chamber, then flick that arm upward to unload a flurry of shots.

There are screen-clearing attacks, common in on-rails shooters, including the option to bring a massive fist down upon your enemies. Swing your right arm downward and a photorealistic fist will plunge down upon the play field, crushing bad guys.

During our demo, the game's lone power-up consisted of a spicy taco, which sent the Gunstringer into a speedy frenzy. He runs faster while under the influence of meat and taco shell, an item that also acts as a score multiplier.

As we raced through levels set in a brightly lit desert, our targets consisted of cowboys, flocks of buzzards and bandits who lobbed sticks of dynamite at the Gunstringer. We dodged rolling boulders and blew up crates stuffed with TNT to clear paths. Sometimes, the action cut back to filmed live action sequences, the crowd pleased with our puppeteering performance.

The Gunstringer can, as previously mentioned, be played while standing or sitting down. The latter option is suggested on-screen as an option for players who may be tired of standing in front of their Kinect camera. (Twisted Pixel says they've built an in-house solution to deal with seated players; they're not using new, Microsoft-developed Kinect technology to bypass that limitation.)

The Gunstringer Aims For Good Kinect Control (And Hits Its Target)S

Our Gunstringer session wrapped up with a boss fight against an inflatable cowboy named Wavy Tube Man. He attacks with whipping elastic arms, requiring the Gunstringer to hide behind a wooden crate, one of the semi-frequent moments that the game's hero automatically takes cover.

That fight was simple enough, with difficulty lowered for the game's first hands-on demo. All that was required was to paint a sextet of targets on Wavy Tube Man, then unload the revolver three times.

The Gunstringer looks to continue the tradition of fun, funny and funky flavor that Twisted Pixel is well-known for, now offering a better excuse to buy a Kinect controller and download a dose of Western revenge. The Gunstringer is planned to arrive sometime this spring.