It had to happen. Legend Entertainment had to disappoint me sometime! Predictably, it's in the area of humor. I have long admitted a bias against games that rely heavily on humor. I know it's a personal failing, but I just seem to get my humor from other places. In a game I prefer mystery, intrigue, exploration, history, or even horror.
Based on a series of books by science fiction author Spider Robinson, Callahan's Crosstime Saloon has got humor by the bucketful. Centered around a curious bar on Long Island that seems to attract a singularly exotic crowd, the game is one series of puns after another. Every single conversation you have with one of the wild characters seems to devolve into a verbal duel of clever puns.
Also, virtually every single screen in the game is wall-to-wall hotspots, and in order not to miss anything important, you have to wade through paragraph after endless funny paragraph about everything from the shine on the floor tiles to the flavor of the coffee. It's not that the material isn't funny, it's often terrifically funny. It's just that it makes the game feel more like reading than playing.
Released in 1997, CCS is one of those curious, I-Can't-Believe-They-Made-it-in-DOS games. I mean, really. DOS in 1997? Still, the game consistently looks good, with crisp, clean graphics. The format is first-person, and each screen has 360-degree panning.
The bar provides the hub for a series of unrelated mini-adventures connected to the different patrons. In each case, your character, a shaggy seventies type called Jake Stonebender (a loner with a past), has to go get one of Callahan's friends out of a jam. This certainly provides a great deal of variety to the game, as you head out for romps in Transylvania to deal with vampires, outer space to deal with a hostile space station, a secret government compound, Manhattan in the future, and an old Mayan temple (now there's somewhere I've never been in an adventure game!).
The best of these sequences is the Central American one, in which you have to make a rare form of chocolate from finding and picking the beans through all of the various processes of making the finished product.
My next complaint may sound as biased as my one about the humor. But most of the puzzles in the game just felt, well, like busy work. Now, of course I know that you could argue that playing adventure games is a frivolous activity at best and that therefore all puzzles are busy work. But in the best games, the puzzles feel like a necessary component of moving the story forward. In CCS, when you have to spend hours doing something silly like building a pair of sunglasses (when buying a pair would be possible and infinitely easier), it just begins to feel like a huge waste of time.
Therefore, my interest in Callahan's Crosstime Saloon faded pretty quickly. Which is a shame, because it looks terrific, has pretty good voice acting, and contains piles of humor. It just lacked that all-important spark that makes a game compelling. After an hour of playing, I'd wake up with my face on the keyboard.
However, fans of humor games will undoubtedly have a much better time with the game than I did. If you love chuckle-heavy games like Simon the Sorcerer or the Monkey Island games, you'll probably enjoy CCS.
Spider Robinson, in addition to being a writer, is a singer/songwriter, and he performs several tunes in the game. He's got a terrific folk-singer voice, and the songs are quite entertaining.
One final note. In the endgame, you learn that our universe is actually a science project called "Raymond." This is just Spider Robinson's way of reminding this writer what I always known--it's all about me.
Final Grade: C
If you liked Callahan's Crosstime Saloon:
Read: Spider Robinson's Callahan's Crosstime Saloon stories
Play: The Space Bar
8 MB RAM
2X CD-ROM drive