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Review of Callahan's Crosstime Saloon by TimovieMan

Stars - 45

Rating by TimovieMan posted on Apr 22, 2013 | edit | delete

An ensemble of great characters in the punniest game ever made!

The Good:
- Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon provides a nice introduction to the world of Spider Robinson’s book series, without you needing to have prior knowledge of the books’ content. And that’s a good thing because I only know of his books because of the game.
- Spider Robinson’s folk songs that were written specifically for this game are really fun. I listened to them occasionaly during the game.
- The graphics in the game still hold up, which is no mean feat for a game that was released back in 1997. The characters and backgrounds are both clear and pretty realistically portrayed. The game also features a couple of cool cutscenes.
- Voice acting in the game is good all-round. The voices match the characters, and the acting is never bad. In fact, at times the acting really stands out (but more on that under ‘The Great’).
- The stories in the game are really good and diverse. You go to wildly varying locations, sometimes even in different eras. A couple of the stories surpass the others (Al Phee’s, Pyotr’s and especially Josie’s story) and could very well be included amongst ‘The Great’ in this listy review.
- The game has a pretty well-balanced difficulty throughout. Apart from a couple of hard wordplay puzzles, most of the puzzles in the game will be solved without trial-and-error, without having you completely stumped, but also without ever feeling like a walk in the park.
- Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon is a really lengthy game. You easily net 30 hours of gaming with it, yet it never drags. A lot of the time spent in the game is spent reading all the descriptions and puns, but that’s a good thing. In fact it was refreshing having to read this much in a game again.

The Great:
- Most of the main characters are very likeable. Doc, Noah and Josie are people you really would like to get to know in real life (which is a credit to both Spider Robinson’s writings and Josh Mandel’s adaptation). But above all: Jake Stonebender, the character you play as throughout the game, is one of the best-written characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching/playing. The guy is simply loveable, with a great personality, and he’s been given a LOT of depth. This game manages - in a time span of about 30 hours - to make Jake Stonebender feel like family.
- Not only the main characters are well-written: this game also has a couple of really memorable minor characters. After you’ve finished this game, you’ll frequently think back at Guzman (the funny/creepy pilot), Pyotr’s drier-than-the-desert butler, the old gypsy woman, not one but two hilariously uncooperative receptionists/secretaries, the insanely intimidating Dr. Dupliscidus, etc. The game is just filled with distinctive parts and moments.
- The game has an extreme level of interactivity. Every single screen is just brimming with interactive hotspots, most of which have multiple actions that can be performed (all of which have their own separate description or even series of descriptions). You’ll be clicking on everything, trying everything with everything, just to see what the description in the game will be. You’ll even be doing more of this than you’ll be actually advancing the story. And the most important aspect of this interactivity is:
- The puns! The puns! Practically every single action in the game is accompanied by a pun. Sometimes dialogues (d)evolve into a salvo of puns. Everywhere, *anywhere* you click, you’ll have a pun thrown at you. And not just that, but they will consistently be funny. You basically will be smiling and laughing your way through the entire game, which is exactly why having hundreds of clickable hotspots is so time consuming: you won’t want to miss a single joke in this game! I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that was this funny *all the time*. And even if the odd joke misses the mark, the game is fully self-aware of its punny nature and will pretty much mock its own type of humour at every opportunity. Laughing out loud every couple of minutes is not something that’s out of the ordinary with this game - it’s a true triumph of comedy!
- Josie’s story contains a section where you have to make chocolate, starting with some cacao beans and using nothing but a vague recipe in a brochure and some medieval equipment. For me personally, the entire chocolate-making puzzle is one of the very best puzzles the adventure genre has ever produced: it’s logical, you get a rough guideline to help you (so you at least know what you’re supposed to do and you’re never really stuck), it takes quite a few steps to complete (none of which are obtuse - so it’s complex, but perfectly doable), some parts have a very clever (and not too obvious) solution, and the entire thing is even educational because it depicts how you really make chocolate. Going over all these steps will make you crave chocolate, so you could even say that this part of the game turns into a sensory experience…
- Squish’s story ends with one of the best visual gags ever in a game, proving that not all the humour in this masterpiece comes from puns.
- There is a single moment where the tone of the game changes, and it’s handled brilliantly. In a game that relies on comedy for just about everything, they managed to sneak in this subdued and effective moment that packs an enormous emotional wallop. It completely blindsided me and the power of its writing (and accompanying voice acting) made me shed a tear. This one moment proves just how good Jake Stonebender’s voice actor really is, and it presses home the depth of the characters and the humanity of Callahan’s Place and it’ll linger in the back of your head…

The Bad:
- Some of the music gets repetitive after a while (especially in rooms with hundreds of hotspot interactions to read). This is noticeable the most during Pyotr’s story - coincidentally the story with the most interactivity and the longest periods of time spent at the same screens.
- There is an overreliance on wordplay puzzles that can sometimes be quite difficult for younger players, or for non-native (American) English speakers.
- Al Phee’s story contains a couple of very minor text display bugs. Absolutely nothing to fret over, though.

That’s pretty much it.

The game is just great. It’s a tribute to camaraderie that’ll leave you thinking about human nature while having you laugh your heart out. Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon is not just one of the funniest games I’ve ever played, it’s also one of the very best!

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Time Played: Over 20 hours
Difficulty: Just Right

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