The Gunstringer is one mean-spirited puppet. This undead cowboy craves revenge in the worst way and remorselessly slays both those who wronged him and others who just happen to be in the way. Sound grim? It isn't. The gritty narrator describing your exploits spits out each ponderous statement with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and the cartoonish facade gives a comedic glow to your murderous exploits. As important as those other elements are in injecting levity into this six-shooter adventure, it's the joyous motion controls provided by the Kinect that transform this seemingly simple game into one that grabs your attention and doesn't let go. Just about everything you do in The Gunstringer not only works as you imagine it should, but feels intuitive as well. The seamless match of your real-life movements with the onscreen actions lets you fully embrace this gung-ho experience. The Gunstringer is an overwhelming success that continually delights and entertains even after the ridiculous credits have rolled.
When familiarizing yourself with The Gunstringer's controls, it helps if you can think like a 6-year-old child. In this forced-scrolling shoot-'em-up, your skeletal protagonist automatically sprints through a variety of Western-themed locales, and you just have to worry about gunning down foes while avoiding their attacks. Shooting couldn't be easier. Paint up to six enemies at a time by sweeping your right hand (there's a left option also) across the screen, and then snap your wrist to pepper them with bullets. Forming a makeshift gun with your fingers isn't required, but it sure feels a lot more natural than firing at your pesky foes with an open palm. And if you want to shout "pew pew pew," there's nothing stopping you. There are times when you have to thrust your arm two or three times before it registers, but it's ultimately a small problem because there's little punishment for being a second late. While your right hand is acting as a gun, your left is in charge of movement. Imagine you're holding the crossbar of a marionette. Pull up to jump, swing to the side to dodge, and marvel at how your every action works just like it should. The controls in The Gunstringer feel fantastic and set a great foundation for this goofy adventure.
For the majority of the game, you run through streets lined with cardboard constructions that resemble cacti, saloons, and all manner of Old West props. Enemies leap from buildings and onto the road in front of you, and you gun them down without ever breaking your stride. The Gunstringer is at its best during these free-flowing portions. There isn't quite as much dynamism in the enemy placement as you would find in the best games in the genre, but it's still a joy to gun everyone down with a gunslinger's relish. During predetermined segments, you pop behind conveniently placed cover. Your left hand lets you poke your bold head out from its protective hiding place, allowing you to strike down the swarming baddies with your right hand. Popping in and out of cover feels so smooth that these brief respites are always welcome. At other times, you put your gun away for a spell and focus on jumping. Platforming culled straight from the original Donkey Kong sees you climbing girders while avoiding traps, but this is the weakest portion of the game. It's so easy that you can lazily move your arms without much thought, so you go through the motions until you whip out your gun a few minutes later.
There are other gameplay diversions along the way--including a few surprising and memorable boss encounters--but The Gunstringer doesn't rely on variety to propel you forward. You experience most of the different action sequences within the first few levels, and after that, it's just variations of the same themes. This could be seen as a detriment to your long-term engagement, but The Gunstringer's emphasis on ensuring that most of what you do is fun propels it beyond any potential stumbles it could have encountered. There is not one dull moment in the course of this roughly five-hour adventure. You effortlessly move from gunning to platforming to skydiving without any downtime, and every interlude injects something new to keep things interesting. Whether it's a shotgun that lets you gun down a horde of foes in one deadly blast or cantankerous ghosts who desperately try to steal your soul, you never know what to expect around the bend.
Presentation also goes a long way toward pushing you forward. A surly narrator tells the story while you're playing, and this adds a lot to the experience. Although his words don't always line up with your actions, he delivers his pronouncements in a terrifically deadpan manner that makes them incredibly funny. When he says, "Six targets, six bullets--the way God and nature intended," you might nod along with the truth of the statement if it were uttered in a more serious situation. But The Gunstringer presents this as a parody of Old West cliches, so it comes across as a great joke that easily brings a smile to your face. While the narrator skirts the line between funny and somber, the full motion video footage of people watching your exploits is knee-slapping goofy. Real-life actors were brought into a theater and react to what you're doing in hilariously exaggerated displays of emotion. One man does a triple take during one shocking moment, and it's hard to stifle a laugh at his wide-eyed, incredulous expression.
When you wrap up the adventure, there are enough unlockables to keep you coming back for another run through or four. Behind-the-scenes footage, unreleased concept art, and instant access to a wealth of fantastic songs are fairly typical, but The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles is anything but. This free DLC is an FMV parody of Mad Dog McCree, and it's utterly ridiculous in all the right ways. Throw in a two-player cooperative mode in which a second player can jump into the main adventure at any time to add an extra gun, and you have a full-featured game that is bursting with entertainment. Plus, you even get a free copy of Fruit Ninja Kinect. There are occasional control issues, and a few of the action sequences falter, but this is still a great game. The Gunstringer may be most notable for showing off just what the Kinect is capable of, but it's the exciting action and hilarious presentation you'll remember.