The Maw established Twisted Pixel as a creative indie developer, and their games have only become more imaginative since then. Unfortunately, they also became annoyingly difficult. For every beautiful piece of art and clever joke in the ‘Splosion Man games, there are dozens of annoying deaths. Some people love sadistically tough games, but I always wished they were more accessible. Thankfully The Gunstringer is Twisted Pixel’s most unpunishing game in years. Anybody should be able to just play it and have fun without experiencing repeated failures.
The only exception to the difficulty rule is the much-loathed “Strings of Steel” Achievement. Instead of just tasking players with beating the game on Hardcore difficulty (which would actually be fun), it requires beating the entire game on Hardcore in only one session, without dying. That kind of Achievement may be funny to read as a news item, but people who actually like Achievements like me don’t see the humor. Just beating levels on Hardcore can be perfectly fun and challenging. But trying to beat a multi-hour, physically-strenuous game only to lose a life near the end and have to start over would be horribly frustrating. Honestly, Twisted Pixel should assign their difficulty-loving designer who came up with the Achievement to other tasks, because his idea of fun is simply wrong.
Then again, “Strings of Steel” can be alleviated with some co-op action. The Gunstringer supports local co-op for two players. Literally at any time, a partner can join in by stepping up and holding his or her hand up for several seconds. The game doesn’t explain this very well, as we tried quickly raising our hands, waving them, etc. for several minutes before we finally held one up long enough for it to register. I find the best time to join is while the game is paused, by the way. The second player controls a targeting reticule but not movement, so it’s more of a co-pilot position. At any rate, having a second player along makes many of the game’s challenges and Achievements much easier.
While co-op mode is worthwhile for that reason alone, it unfortunately feels like an afterthought more than a proper inclusion. The worst problem is that the second player earns no Achievements. It’s surprising because the ‘Splosion Man games didn’t make that mistake, nor do other Kinect games like Kinect Adventures and Dance Central. As a result, many of us will have a tough time getting a partner to come along for the entire campaign since they won’t get credit for it. Finally, we also experienced an issue in which the second player could aim the reticule but not fire, though that seems to have been an isolated case. Regardless of these issues, playing in twos could still go over well in party settings where silliness takes precedence over individual progress.
The Gunstringer may squander its co-op potential, but it’s still the best Kinect game yet. The revenge story with its twist ending (that you shouldn’t let anybody spoil for you) and gameplay are incredibly fresh and clever, and the art design is Twisted Pixel’s best ever. With so much stuff to do in the main game and two bonus games on top of that, The Gunstringer’s low $40 retail price is a stone-cold killer deal. Everything just comes together incredibly well, creating the most engaging and original game I’ve played all year. Don’t let the flood of ‘big’ fall sequels keep you from climbing on this multi-trick stick pony.
The Co-Op Experience: One player controls the Gunstringer while the other can stand up and join in aas a second set of guns.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.