BrainLazy and Twisted Pixel have had a pretty good working relationship. They let us interview them back at the first PAX East, and an article we wrote in defense of one of their titles was tweeted by the CEO himself. We didn’t even send it to him! Our interactions have been flawless, I say. FLAWLESS! (As long as you ignore the fact that I may have mistakingly referred to said CEO as Mr. Wilcox rather than Mr. Wilford at one point. Not my fault, I was medicated.) Thus, we were super excited to get another chance to speak with them this year, particularly considering that they had not one but TWO new titles to show off. We’ll start with their primary project for the show, The Gunstringer.
When Microsoft first showed off the Kinect, it caused something of a stir. Generally speaking, it appeared that their plan was to take a great big bite out of Nintendo’s pie by hopping on the motion control band wagon. While the end product proved to be much more its own thing than many had expected, it still appears that its primary purpose is to shift the 360 into a more casual direction. The minor but noticeable delay and general lack of precision make hardcore gaming an impossibility, right? WRONG! Twisted Pixel, in their usual unique and creative way, have made a genuine effort to put the Kinect to work in a form that hardcore gamers can appreciate.
In appearance, the game shines with color and personality. You control a vengeful marionette gunman, a skeleton that looks like a cross between Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name and a Dia De Los Muertos parade prop. After being buried alive by thugs and hooligans, he hauls himself free and sets off on a quest to kill the people who killed him. These fiends include a voodoo priestess, a hilariously over-endowed “purveyor of proclivities best unnamed,” and a waving tube man, who was the boss of the level presented. No attempt is made to disguise the character’s puppet nature. The whole of the game is played out like a puppet show set in a theater, complete with Full Motion Video opening of the Twisted Pixel staff arriving to view it. Characters and set pieces look and move like they are hand sculpted and moved by strings, and every so often an arm will show up to set something in motion or introduce a new element. Possibly my favorite part of the presentation, however, is the traditional grizzled cowboy narrator, who is tasked with delivering hilariously absurd lines in the spirit of a wild west epic. His voice overs served as the tutorial as well, informing us, the viewers, of each new ability introduced.
The creative and unique personality of the game was a foregone conclusion, though. We would expect nothing less from the makers of ‘Splosion Man and Comic Jumper. Our real concern was the controls, and they are pretty darn good. Your left hand is essentially holding the strings that hold the Gunstringer. Moving them left and right moves the character across the screen, a swift yank upward causes him to jump, you get the idea. Your other hand is his shooting hand, moving a reticule surrounded by six bullets. Sweeping the reticule across valid targets marks them and fades out a bullet. Once you’ve marked everything you intend to blast, a quick flip of the arm, “pistol recoil” style, fires them. The general effect is a gameplay style very much like Panzer Dragoon, and it works. The surprisingly lengthy demo level showed cover based shooting galleries, sprinting combo-fests, and a boss fight that includes unloading your gun multiple times into a nefarious advertising prop. When things get rough, you can always break the forth wall by smashing your fist down, prompting the unseen puppeteer to do the same. Even on the crowded exhibition floor, the game seldom became confused, and in the hands of our man Phawx, the speed and accuracy with which he cleared the screen of outlaws certainly made hardcore gaming seem like a legitimate possibility. Considering that this was a build made just for PAX, one can only imagine how well it will perform after a few more months to tweak. Interestingly, rather than setting out to produce a non-casual Kinect title, Jay at Twisted Pixel says that they had always wanted to do a puppet game, and the Kinect just gave them an excellent way to do it. Seeing that there hadn’t been a Kinect shooter yet, they decided to give it a try.
The release date is set tentatively in Spring (though there are mutters and whispers that it would be releasing more specifically in May), and though nothing is finalized, Twisted Pixel claims they are looking to keep with the tradition of including extras like the Avatar props, premium themes, and bonus levels that have been included with their other games.
The second game on display was the upcoming followup to ‘Splosion Man, Ms. ‘Splosion Man. The game looks and plays very much like its predecessor, which is a surprise coming from a company that has released new IPs with each launch, rather than milking franchises. When I asked if this was intended to be a sequel, I was informed that it is more of a revamped version of the original. ‘Splosion Man had been rushed to completion to meet deadlines, and as such had been forced to remove many features that they would have liked to include. With the time and budget afforded by their other successes, Twisted Pixel was able to bring their original vision to life in a more complete form. Rather than completely abandon their sequel-free history, they decided to give a tip of the hat to Pac Man and slap a bow and lipstick onto the character.
In terms of controls and format, Ms. ‘Splosion Man is just like ‘Splosion Man. That said, even in the short demo I was able to play, there were numerous elements that had not been present in the original, including trampolines and glowing zip lines. Then, of course, there is the character and tone. Fluorescent pink and sporting lipstick, eyelashes, and a great big bow, Ms. ‘Splosion Man is a comically over-the-top hyperactive female that is every bit the match for ‘Splosion Man’s hyperactive male. Rather than rambling incoherant gibberish about meat and traveling with airplane noises and karate kicks, the Missus makes exclamations about shoes and cupcakes and moves with ballerina toe-steps and pirouettes. The music has even gotten a feminine make over. The humor, though, is much the same, stirring in heaps of pop culture references. (I especially liked the Predator reference, and the mission accomplished poster.)
The release date is vaguely pegged as “After Gunstringer” and we are assured that the firm foundation of code, combined with the additional development time, will produce a game with both single and multi-player campaigns without any of the sync bugs that briefly marred the predecessor.
All in all, I came away from the Twisted Pixel booth thoroughly impressed and eager to try out their finished games.