Twisted Pixel’s The Gunstringer is one of the best Kinect titles on Xbox 360, so when I heard that a spin-off was coming to Windows 8/RT, I was quite excited. But while The Gunstringer: Dead Man Running retains many of the same elements as its console-based predecessor, it’s also quite different.
Developed by Other Ocean, rather than Twisted Pixel, the game actually blends The Gunstringer’s quirky elements with gameplay very similar to Temple Run. Surprisingly, this works fairly well, since the original game was essentially an on-rails third-person shooter where you controlled strafing and jumping with your left hand – much like a marionette – and shooting with your right. The mobile version, however, strips out the variety of the boss battles and locales in favor of an endless runner, where you strafe by tilting the device, jump or roll by flicking up or down, and shoot by tapping on the screen. You can, of course, also play with a keyboard and mouse, utilizing the four directional arrows and the spacebar.
The controls are decent, but I often found it difficult to position the character in the center of the screen at a moment’s notice. This frequently resulted in unintentional and frustrating collisions with the obstacles in your way. And here is where the game’s biggest drawback comes into focus: its challenging difficulty. Unless you’re extremely lucky, even the smallest collisions will require you to restart the level from the beginning. Some of the levels in the oh-so-brief Story mode were easy, but others required countless attempts. Especially the boss battles, which force you to beat an entire level and then avoid the boxes the boss throws in your way. If you mess up here, you’ll have to start over from scratch (Tip: Stay in the center and jump one second after the box is thrown, no matter where it lands). Thankfully, while you are free to take different paths throughout the level, the actual layout never changes. This allows you to memorize the entire route after a bit of trial and error.
Unlike The Gunstringer, Dead Man Running has little-to-no actual story. Badges help extend the replayability somewhat, but only if you’re a completionist. These can be unlocked by shooting all of the targets in a level, collecting all of the chests, and other tasks. Of course, Endless Run is probably where you’ll spend the majority of your time, especially if you’re going for the achievements. Only the Canyon level is unlocked initially, but Grasslands and Alpine Pass will become available as you progress through the Story mode. Here, your goal is to run for as long as you can, challenging friends over Xbox LIVE and working your way up the leaderboards.
The game’s third major component is the Store, where you can purchase everything from cosmetic upgrades like new character models, accessories, and weapons to game-altering items like power-ups and unlocks. Unlocks essentially let you skip over parts of the Story by purchasing early access to world bosses and Endless Run levels, while power-ups will actually make the game somewhat easier – if only slightly. You’ll probably end up putting most of the coins you earn into ghost mode, ghost sense, and ghost rush which initially enable and then extend the duration of these power-ups in the levels. Then it’s only a matter of finding their locations in-game and running into them while zooming through the level. While they’re sure to help you progress further, there’s a good chance you’ll miss out on some of the badges. It’s possible to purchase an extra life as well, but with an average income of a few hundred coins per game, these are very expensive at 4,000 coins per use. Even the daily coin bonuses aren’t enough to offset it. This is where the microtransaction model comes into play. The game itself only costs a $1.49 – free if you picked it up while it was on sale – but you can purchase additional coins or diamonds with real money. These prices range from $1.99 to a whopping $39.99. If you’re willing to spend the money, you’ll find that the difficulty drops significantly. That being said, it’s certainly possible to play and beat the game without spending a dime.
The Gunstringer: Dead Man Running is a lot of fun, but it can also be quite a challenge. I would have liked to see more gameplay variety, a longer Story mode with a true narrative, tighter controls, and less reliance on the Store, but it’s still enjoyable for what it is. It’s very different from its Kinect-centric predecessor, but it’s still worth giving the game a download (there is a free trial available) - especially if you enjoy endless runners like Temple Run.
Download: Windows Store