The Gunstringer preview: How the west was fun

The phrase "on rails" has something of a negative connotation in the video game industry. It implies that one's game design is lazy, or that it takes freedom away from the player. As developers come to grips with Kinect's controller-free technology, many of its experiences remain on rails, including several of the titles on display at E3.

The Gunstringer does not buck that trend; however, while it doesn't offer complete freedom of movement, it still manages to deliver the most precise Kinect controls I've ever experienced. Coupled with trademark Twisted Pixel humor, it makes a great first impression.%Gallery-125562% We've covered The Gunstringer on Joystiq before, but E3 marked my first time experiencing it. Control is simple. Dragging my left hand from side to side, I was able to move the titular Gunstringer left or right. An upward swing made him jump -- as though I had pulled him up by the strings. The right hand is used to highlight targets, with a quick snap at the elbow firing off the designated shots (imagine yelling "bang!" if that helps complete the picture).

The controls are natural and intuitive, but what really stands out is the level of precision Twisted Pixel has managed to get out of the Kinect. The targeting reticle was able to pick up even the subtlest movements of my right hand, which made aiming a relatively painless affair. Any movement lag is barely perceptible when actually playing (though it is noticeable when watching others).

Twisted Pixel was also showing off a new style of gameplay in The Gunstringer that hasn't been shown before: platforming. Once section was played in side-scrolling 2D, sending the Gunstringer up ramps and leaping over pits. As in the shooting sections, his movement is guided by the computer, while I was responsible for correctly timing his jumps. 3D platforming sections are a little more complex.

One particular instance had the Gunstringer running towards the screen as massive boulders and logs tailed him from behind. I had make him dodge left and right to avoid boulders or jump as the logs came tumbling by. I also had to avoid brambles at one point, forcing me to concentrate on several different factors at once.

The final platforming section I played involved a simple melee mechanic. Again, movement was restricted to a 2D plane as the Gunstringer ran through a saw mill. Approaching villainous lumberjacks, I threw a punch with my right fist, causing him to throw his own (appropriately dangly) punch.

As we've seen in previous Gunstringer coverage, the game is set in an actual theatre, and is presented as though it were a real puppet play. Set pieces look like ... well, set pieces, including wooden backdrops and cardboard tube tree trunks. Live-action vignettes are also interspersed throughout each level, cutting away to audience reactions to the play being staged. These moments are genuinely funny, though hopefully we won't have to suffer through the same jokes multiple times (I'm looking at you, Comic Jumper).

Twisted Pixel's Mike Wilford promises plenty of unlockable content for The Gunstringer, including outtakes from the live-action sequences. The game will include four different "plays," each including multiple acts. Hopefully, there will be enough content to justify The Gunstringer's recent leap from Xbox Live Arcade download to full retail product.

Regardless, one thing is clear: The Gunstringer is already one of the best-playing Kinect titles there is.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.