Callahan's Crosstime Saloon Review

Spider Robinson's tongue-in-cheek writing rarely elicits the laughter it deserves.

At Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, a fictional Long Island watering hole, all are welcome. But Callahan's, the game, is for only a very narrow range of gamers: those who enjoy deep immersion into tons of text, a plethora of puns, and complex and frequently frustrating point-and-click adventuring.

Callahan's Crosstime Saloon is a Cheers with an intergalactic clientele where everybody knows your temporal and planetary origins. It is the jumping off point for author many short stories. Jake Stonebender is the hero of Robinson's stories, and your alter ego in the game. Stonebender meets intriguing beings and helps solve their personal, global, and galactic problems. Despite the game's box art and PR, most of the creatures appear humanoid and most of the adventuring takes place on Earth. On the other hand, there is some time travel and the Transylvania visit does seem otherworldly.

The game's designer, former long-term Sierra veteran Josh Mandel, lovingly and beautifully re-creates the ambiance, conviviality, and comradeship of Callahan's. The images are nearly photographic, richly-colored, 360-degree panoramas. You navigate by sliding the images left or right (and sometimes up or down) or clicking one screen width in either direction. Virtually anything and everyone is clickable, usually eliciting mildly humorous remarks, but sometimes providing clues or inventory items.

The game's overall look is strongly reminiscent of the early days of CD-ROM games way back in 1993, when Macromedia Director spawned a bunch of Macintosh-produced click-and-wait games such as Journeyman Project, Iron Helix, and Hell Cab. CCS most closely resembles the latter with its minimal animations and Clutch Cargo-ish non-lip-synching.

That retro look is disconcerting, in light of what's technologically possible today. But this game is not about eye candy. It's an attempt to tackle what heretofore has been a virtual oxymoron: interactive storytelling. Unfortunately, CCS does not quite make the tackle. Here's why: The numerous conversations and comments are rarely funny. The necessity of clicking through the non-animated dialogue means any comedic timing falls flat. Searching for clues or inventory items fits into the needle-in-a-haystack category, since just about everything is "hot," but only a few items move the adventuring forward. And all that searching and clicking means Spider Robinson's tongue-in-cheek writing rarely elicits the laughter it deserves.

In addition, CCS is nearly impossible. Some of the inventory items are damned near invisible, many of the problems are "clueless," and the massive number of dialogues and hot spots makes a gamer weary. Fortunately, somewhere along the way, someone recognized these drawbacks. So, included a small, printed strategy guide with the game. It includes hints for each of the game's six short stories, plus puzzle solutions, and a detailed walk-through of the entire game.

The game is full of hidden surprises (typically humorous), plus a few original songs performed by author Spider Robinson. He says he's also a folk singer, but he arrived on the music scene a few years after that industry collapsed, so he turned to writing. For Robinson fans, and there are legions of them, CCS will likely hit the spot. But if you don't fancy a few score hours of clickable dialogue, you'll want to tip your elbow elsewhere.

The Good

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The Bad

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