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Crossbow (Atari 2600) artwork

Crossbow (Atari 2600) review

"Off the mark"

Crossbow (Atari 2600) image

There aren't many games similar to Crossbow on Atari 2600. There's a reason for that...

You see, Crossbow is a light gun title that doesn't make use of said accessory. Yes, such a device exists that's compatible with Atari 2600, the XG-1, but Crossbow doesn't recognize it. Rather, you have to mow down the game's various targets via joystick. Before you dismiss this argument and point out that NES and later systems sported light gun titles that worked fine with a controller, remember that we're talking about a more antiquated platform equipped with a somewhat awkward means of manipulating player characters. Though the Atari 2600's joystick works well enough, it's not an ideal utensil for landing precise shots in a game like this one.

On the surface, Crossbow seems like a neat distraction. For starters, it has an actual campaign, wherein you advance through several scenarios before taking on a grand finale and ending your quest. The whole shebang then restarts, as with every other 2600 game. The point, though, is that the game showcases multiple environments, each with its own identity, bestiary, and hazards. As you can imagine, this also means that you must modify your strategy for each stage and constantly adapt to new woes. For the previously listed reasons, Crossbow is a laudable game, as it's one of the few progress-based Atari 2600 games that doesn't totally blow because of its structure.

Crossbow (Atari 2600) image

The objective of each stage is to safeguard a band of adventurers against the perils they encounter. You accomplish this by shooting anything in their path that appears to be nefarious, thereby allowing any heroic NPCs--who I assume are your partners on this journey--that happen to materialize on the left side of the screen to mosey uncontested to the opposite end. For instance, there's a desert stage populated by scorpions, giant ants (or perhaps those are camel spiders), bats, and snakes, each threatening to bite or sting the travelers as they slowly voyage across the terrain. Should one of your companions meet with any of the creatures in the interim, you have a limited amount of time to skewer the problem with an arrow, lest the warrior succumb to his wounds. In some cases, you have almost no time at all to act. One stage transpires within a frozen cave, where icicles plummet from the ceiling. A single collision from the frozen trap spells instant doom, so you must be both vigilant and quick.

Thankfully, the game's control response is quick enough to allow you to deal with some of the conflicts that arise. Unfortunately, there's one huge snag that devastates the experience. Whenever you take a shot, your cursor pauses for a moment. That might not sound like much of a hitch, but most dire situations require nearly instantaneous response. Sometimes one of your mates bumps into a scorpion. You rush the reticle to the space at his feet to blast the venomous arthropod, and it's then that a bat soars in from behind and nibbles on your buddy's neck. Because of the delay that comes with firing, you've allowed the winged mammal enough time to eliminate one of your party members, and by no fault of your own. Not only were you the victim of rotten luck, because the previously described setup doesn't always occur, but also of poor design choices. If you're going to limit gamers to using a joystick to play a light gun title, then it would be best to tone down the game's expectations. In particular, if you don't give players enough time to react to mishaps, then you're just being cheap.

Crossbow (Atari 2600) imageCrossbow (Atari 2600) image

Perhaps the worst situations to be in require such swift reflexes that they could only be accomplished with an actual light gun. One area that springs to mind involves a jungle full of monkeys that apparently fling feces at you. Not just any poop, either, but high caustic death-shit that reduces heroes to a mere pile. The problem is that these turds are not only tiny, but they fly at such insane speeds that few people should be able to eliminate them before they reach their targets. True, you could fell the primates before they have a chance to fling their products, but that, too, can prove to be quite the task.

I sometime speculate on how the 2600 iteration of Crossbow would have turned out if it supported a gun peripheral. You might not have had the nasty lag after each shot, and you could probably more effectively deal with the game's cheaper segments. Unfortunately, what we have instead is a troubled port of an arcade title, bereft of the gimmick that made playing the cabinet worth your quarter. Ironically, although Crossbow is one of 2600's more original shooters, I would take one of the various Space Invaders clones any day.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (March 13, 2015)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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