Pause for a moment and think about your favorite Kinect game. For most people, it’s probably “Dance Central.” If you like the way Kinect gets you up off the couch and moving, you’ll probably gravitate toward “Your Shape: Fitness Evolved” or EA Sports’ “Active 2.” One thing about the Kinect has become pretty clear, though. Unless you’re a pretty young kid captivated by pet-raising simulation “Kinectimals,” there isn’t much out there beyond dance and exercise games.
At some point, Kinect developers are going to have to move beyond dance, exercise and sports games to hold people’s interest. At a Microsoft press event last week, I got a look at three titles planned for release on Kinect by the end of the summer. The most accessible of these is upcoming Xbox Live Arcade game “The Gunstringer.”
“The Gunstringer,” which if I had to guess will be rated T or E10+ because of the shooting, is a downloadable game developed by Twisted Pixel, makers of cult XBLA hits “‘Splosion Man,” “Comic Jumper” and “The Maw.” It’s due out sometime this spring and stars the titular Gunstringer, an outlaw marionette bent on justice in the Old West.
The first level begins with the Gunstringer being left for dead and buried under some rubble. You pick him up off the ground, then set out to seek revenge upon the folks who did him wrong. The portion of the game I played mostly controlled like what’s commonly called on on-rails shooter. The Gunstringer himself ran automatically through the level, but I used my left arm to move him from side to side, or to make him jump over obstacles. The right hand governs the use of the marionette’s six-shooter. You’ll sweep your hand over your targets to highlight them, then fire by making a sort of pointing/firing motion.
At a couple of key points in the action, the Gunstringer would come across a cover-based set piece. Here, he stops running and takes cover behind some rocks. At one stop, I had to shoot it out with some outlaws by marking them with my right hand, then leaning out from cover with my left and firing before my enemies’ bullets could hit me. At another, I had to blast one of those giant, wavy inflatable cactus thingies you see outside of car dealerships.
The reason I was battling an inflatable cactus is because “The Gunstringer’s” story is wrapped up in a metanarrative in which the person controlling the action is actually a puppeteer putting on a stage show. The gameplay is intercut with footage of a crowd showing up to a theater, and after each segment of gameplay, you’ll see their reaction to your performance. Guide the Gunstringer through a level with near perfection, and you’ll get applause. Mess up, and you’ll get boos, Twisted Pixel Community Manager Jay Stuckwisch told me. (I didn’t get to see what happened when someone played poorly, and there were people waiting to play behind me, so I couldn’t just flub for the sake of seeing what would happen.)
Stuckwisch said the live footage of the audience was shot during a session at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas, where the studio is based. He said they just put out a call for extras and people showed up. You can actually see Stuckwisch and other Twisted Pixel employees in the live footage, which I thought was a cool way to get your artists in the game without resorting to the usual hidden Easter eggs.
The action itself is organized into four acts, which Stuckwish said should provide around five to six total hours of gameplay. Each act is subdivided into scenes, so there are ample opportunities to take breaks if your arms get tired.
In a concession to the, “I don’t want to get up off the couch and wave my arms around” crowd, “The Gunstringer” is fully playable when you’re sitting down, since it only uses your arms. This might seem like a copout to parents who bought Kinect as a way to get their kids up and off the couch, but it’s a necessary move. A lot of the Wii’s most popular games are ones where you turn the remote on its side and use it like a standard controller, or where you use it like a pointer. In recognizing that fact, Twisted Pixel might be making the first Kinect game you can unwind with.
I can see “The Gunstringer” sort of becoming Kinect’s “Duck Hunt.” Obviously, it’s a lot more complex and nuanced than Nintendo’s light-gun-controlled 1980s classic. What I mean is that the cartoony art style, lack of blood and the fact that you’re shooting stage props as opposed to living things make it one of the few shooters I’d feel comfortable playing with a younger kid. I didn’t get a chance to try out co-op play, but Stuckwisch told me it’s something Twisted Pixel is working on.