Callahan's Crosstime Saloon

1997 Legend Entertainment
Designed by Josh Mandel
Reviewed 1999 February 6

Rating +3 Linearity narrow, branching
Reasonability reasonable Connectivity moderate
Difficulty challenging Relevance strong
Interface 1st paned menu Real-time none

This game is based on a series of short stories by SF author Spider Robinson. You play the central character, Jake Stonebender, a folk singer who relates the events that take place at Callahan's Bar, hidden somewhere on Long Island. Callahan's is a magnet for troubled souls, frequently of the non-human variety, such as aliens, time travellers, vampires, and talking mutant dogs.

Callahan's Crosstime Saloon consists of six mostly independent mini-games (although each "mini" is as large as some other complete games). Each game has Jake helping another of the bar's regulars, and one game has Jake and friends working to save not just the world but the entire universe.

Callahan's presents you with a very large world (or worlds), with many interesting and funny characters. The humour is not all in the main line of play, either: there is a lot hidden away in all the silly things the game lets you try with the red herrings. All these little baubles make for a rich universe, giving the game a distinct atmosphere. Most importantly for fans of Robinson, that atmosphere is very close to the stories.

This is a large game, with a lot to do. While several of the challenges are difficult, that still leaves a lot of easier challenges, so that you feel like you're moving along nicely.

Most of the challenges are the familiar inventory based problems, but there are a few word puzzles -- a must, since they are in the original stories -- and an outright puzzle, just for fun. There are many clever and original problems to solve. A few border on silly, going against the feel of the game, but overall the game is very reasonable. My biggest problem was that there was so much to investigate that it was easy to overlook some things.

The game is presented in the first person, except that you can see yourself (Jake) in conversations and at the bottom of the screen. The scenes and characters are drawn in a realistic fashion. The mouse-only interface is easy to use, and conversations are simple menu selections. I was occasionally miffed at the conversation system for kicking me out at the end of one subtree, instead of allowing me to back up to previous menus.

The drawn graphics are well done. The scenes are clear, so that you can see all the important aspects, and detailed to provide a good sense of being there. However, the scenes tend to be static, relative to contemporary games, and the characters are hardly animated at all, giving the game a clunky look. While this could have been a shortcoming due to the budget, it is used to advantage. Instead of animations, the disc space is used to provide increased interaction with almost anything you can see, including characters. A lot of this is done with simple text: perform an action on an object, and you are often given a simple text description (usually very droll) of the results. I wish more adventure games would opt for interaction over eye-candy -- I find it more immersive.

This is a great game for experienced adventurers. It's large, with lots of clever challenges, and overflowing with humour. You can spend hours just investigating each scene, soaking up the ambience.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.
David Tanguay's Game Reviews
Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.