Leave it to Twisted Pixel to come up with something quirky, silly, and totally hilarious. At the Microsoft February Showcase in San Francisco, we got our first look at The Gunstringer, where we played as an undead cowboy who was the star of a stage show. There's even a real-life audience in game to cheer you on between acts. This lone cowboy is out for revenge, and he's going to get it with your help as the puppeteer. It's an on-rail shooter that uses the Kinect, and once you jump into this fabricated theatrical performance (reminiscent of old spaghetti westerns), you'll find that it actually takes some coordination and finesse to exact revenge on the posse that betrayed you.
It's not that the controls aren't responsive enough; they were actually quite solid and we were told that there would definitely be more fine-tuning. Waving your right hand and left hand around at the same time can be tricky--unless you've mastered the art of patting your head and rubbing your belly. In Gunstringer, you use your left hand to move your puppet, flicking it up to jump, and the right hand controls the target reticle. With a swift jerk up with your right forearm, you'll be able to fire at any enemies that you've highlighted. Pointing your finger at the television and yelling "pew pew!" as though you've got an actual gun is optional, but the game is fun enough that you might actually find yourself doing so. We all ran around as kids pointing and firing at people with our fingers, so this actually felt quite natural, and for the most part, it was very responsive. It will take some practice before you can weave around cacti like a pro with one hand while highlighting all the targets with your right hand and firing. At least, it seemed like we were flexing certain parts of our brain that we normally don't use. What also keeps you motivated, though, is that stuff blows up with dramatic flair when you unload your gun, so it feels like a shooting gallery except that you're always on the move. It's also interesting to listen to the narrator describe what you're doing onscreen because you are in a play and there's an audience to entertain.
The environments are full of random items thrown together, and the characters that you meet and ultimately kill are so ridiculous that you can't help but laugh as you go along. The Wavy Tube man was the first boss we came across, and he was basically a giant green wavy tube with tube arms donning a cowboy hat, blowing in the wind. You've seen these tubes before. They're usually blowing around at a car dealership or some kind of festival to get your attention. The acts that we played were varied so that we weren't always just dodging and shooting or running and jumping. Sometimes you'll need to dodge boulders that are coming at you, and at other times, you'll need to hide behind one to avoid all the sticks of dynamite that are being thrown at you. Either way, you feel invested in the experience because once the curtain goes down, you receive a thunderous applause for your efforts.
Though you may not get a standing ovation, it's nice that you can also play the game sitting down. What's also fun is that one of the powers we acquired let us take part in the action on stage by clearing out some enemies with our giant fist. By making a punching motion downward, you'll bring down an actual fist, which helps if you're in a sticky situation and need to clear a line of enemies quickly.
Only a couple of acts were available to play, but we'll be able to take a look at the game again in the coming weeks. Look for The Gunstringer when it appears sometimes this spring.