Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon

Publisher: Take-Two Interactive
Developer: Legend
Year: 1997
Platform: DOS

ReviewLegend might have raised the bar with this game. They had to tap into many talents to make the game as good as it was. They certainly did not lounge around while this was in production. Inn fact, you could say they put more effort into this one more than any other. I’m even confident enough with that opinion to go pub-lic with it.

And if you could stomach that pun-filled synopsis, you might want to try Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon. Based off series of books by Spider Robinson, you fill the shoes of Jake Stonebender, a reserved man with a haunted past, witnessing and partaking in the strange goings-on in the titular tavern. You’ll run into many fascinating friends, ranging from vampires to aliens to talking dogs to time travelers and even some regular ol’ drunks, who all respect one another’s privacy and can’t go three sentences without starting an all-out pun war.

The overarching plot is that our universe is about to be eliminated by an intergalactic council because there is nothing unique about it, thus being labeled a tax on resources. The creator of our universe is allowed some time to make a defense for his project, and decides to head to Earth to see if anything pops up. Oblivious to the fact that end of the world is near, you (as Jake) must traipse through many other hurdles (such as preventing an alien species from sucking all the testosterone from Earth) and help out your friends (possibly by heading to the future to save a certain cacao plant from extinction) in order to pass the time. Meanwhile, the universe’s creator is keeping a close eye on your adventures.

The game starts with the player attempting to win a contest at the saloon by solving various riddles of a pun like nature. The theme for the night (which becomes soon obvious) is classic rock bands.  One clue is “Slender Projectiles + Legend.” In other words, “Arrows + Myth.” Thus, the answer for that riddle is Aerosmith! I absolutely love word puzzles, so this game hooked me immediately. The rest of the game is based less on word puzzles than on quirky inventory-based puzzles that make sense only in the bizarre environment you encounter through your adventures. On several of these adventures, you will have a partner (from the bar) who comments on your predicament and even helps out on occasion.

Your enjoyment of the game will highly rely on your taste in humor, as the personalities and subsequent jokes by this crazy bunch of characters is the heart and soul of Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon. There are some logically satisfying puzzles, but many are contrived and feel like busy work. Meanwhile, the game includes responses (in full speech) for thousands upon thousands of actions. While this attention to detail is appreciated, most of the game is spent listening to the narrator drone on about various tangents. Some of the commentary is amusing, but it eventually feels like a chore. I zipped through the first half of the game, but the redundancy slowly bored me right up until the final chapter, when I was happy to see the plot finally moving along.

The other highlight here is the four solid folk songs interlaced throughout, written and sung by Spider Robinson himself. The Drunkard’s Song is fantastic, and the author has released a CD of his own.

I laughed out loud a couple dozen times during my playthrough, and was pleased to see many unique features (and gambles) taken by the developers. But when all was said and done, there were too many flaws to give this game a high ranking, though I would still recommend it to fans of the author, of Legend games, and puns.

Contemporary RatingHigh.  Intuitive game, easy interface.  Though, if you’re not a native English speaker, the game would be difficult at times.

Cruelty Rating:  Merciful.  You can die, but there’s no need to save as you’ll get taken right back to where you were.

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