a review of Conquests of the Longbow - The Legend of Robin Hood
a videogame developed by christy marx
and published by sierra on-line
for dos and the amiga
text by Brandon Parker
Conquests of the Longbow was to adventure games what Myth was to real-time strategy, what River City Ransom was to side scrolling “beat them ups” (called so because you scroll to the side while beating “them” up, “them” being every man, woman and child who crosses your path). Nice innovational little games that nobody gave a stuff about. Hey, that was neat, now let’s move people we need to get the same-old-stuff assembly line up and running again. We’ve got status quos to meet, genre’s to stagnate, envelopes to pull, bars to lower, let’s get busy.
Compare King’s Quest V to Conquests of the Longbow. There’s only a year’s difference between the two yet the difference is, well, somewhat frightening. If we had continued evolving along this path I imagine we would be nothing but disembodied brains controlling our giant armored robot spider carapaces by now.
Meanwhile, have a look over here at Command & Conquer and Supreme Commander, there’s a whole 12 years difference between the two and they are practically the same damn game, they even both have the word command in the title! Although at least of strategy games you can say they have either narrowed in focus or increased in size and scale over time, however slightly. Over in adventure game land I don’t think they’ve figured out that newfangled “3d” thing yet.
In Conquests of the Longbow, you play as Robin Hood. He wakes up every morning at his hidden outlaw camp. He talks with his band of outlaws about what they plan on doing that day. If you’re in trouble out in the woods, you can blow on your hunting horn and summon your men to your aid. You and your men have got their own little hill out in the woods that offers a good vantage point of the highway running through Sherwood. From there you can commit your illegal banditry and highwayman activities. You can get disguises and sneak into Nottingham. If you want you can just wander around the woods, which are just a handful of different screens with randomized trees and foliage repeated over and over, but it’s beautiful. It’s green as hell, and it’s got birds chirping and at least they bothered to let you do that. I love the color green.
Early on, there’s a part where some young pro-Robin Hood kid’s get caught acting like hooligans in Nottingham and are to be executed by the end of the day. Playing the game as a kid, I got frustrated trying to figure out what to do here, I wandered around for hours. Eventually, Little John just showed up and told me, “I’ll take care of it.” And he did, although his method of open attack gets a few of your outlaws killed, but how about that? I had always figured that and sneaking in disguised were the only options, and that was it. Not so! Just the other day I found out you can go to the camp, blow on your horn and all your men show up and each offer their own different plan for you to try out. What the hell!? It just might be the best game ever, that’s what the hell. Wish I had known that 16 years ago though.
You’re thinking, well golly this game does sound kinda neat! Too bad it’s so old, if only they remade it, then maybe I could give muster enough give-a-stuff to play it. Well I mean to tell you that you are wrong, it would no longer be neat if it were made with nowadays game making techniques. It’d be a real goddamn tragedy is what it’d be, in addition to being a 3rd person action-adventure game, probably called Hood or Locksley. There’d be levels or ‘missions’ and the first one would be an unskipable tutorial for anyone who has never played a video game, used a cell phone, watched a DVD or fed themselves before. The controls and interface will be dumbed down for the 360 port and selecting the option to use a 360 controller on the PC version will literally lobotomize the game right in front of you. Golden arrows will be scattered around Sherwood Forest for no real logical reason, but collect 100/100 and you Unlock an Achievement. Also littering the forest for no reason other than it being video game logic are hundreds of monsters to kill with your sword, bow or Bitchin’ Druid Magic Attacks. The Merry Men are now idiotic AI companions you direct and give commands to with the directional pad. Robin Hood will have a rugged five o’clock shadow at all times.
That’s the difference between someone back in 1990 wanting to turn the Robin Hood myth they’ve read and researched into a sort of interactive experience, and someone in 2007 trying to come up with a Hot New “IP” for The Company. In the instruction manual for Longbow, there’s a bibliography at the back. This is where they tell you every book they read to come up with the game, because that is what they used to do, they read books instead of PowerPoint presentations and talked to human beings instead of focus groups to help come up with these things. Amazing! Incredible!
If you’ve ever wondered why there aren’t very many Robin Hood games, this is why. After Longbow, there just wasn’t any point. Maybe someone could make a better Robin Hood film, book, or puppet show but a videogame? Forget it, it’s been done, and even pursuing Robin Hood in another field is questionable, that’s how good this game is.
And forget that trial in Chrono Trigger, this game was way ahead of that bullstuff. In this one if you lose the trial, instead of the Merry Men coming to rescue you then escaping through a time portal after killing a giant dragon tank, they just hang Robin and he dies. So in some ways it’s an improvement and in some other ways it’s not quite as awesome and sort of a downer actually.
In King’s Quest V, King Graham is out for a walk one day when he comes back home to find that his castle has disappeared. “Holy stuff” he must be thinking. “Where has my house gone off to?” So he goes questing to look for his castle, and on the way he has to go through some mountains. There’s a problem though, there’s a rattlesnake in the way. No, you can’t walk around it, you can’t wait for it to leave and you can’t find another path up the mountain. To get through these mountains in the east you have to go west into a desert. Then it’s to some woods to the north, then underground to where some gnomes live, then you talk to some bees, get tied up and locked in someones basement, etc., all to get a goddamn tambourine just to scare that snake away.
Now, that’s all fine and dandy for a King’s Quest game where abstract tomfoolery and obtuse puzzle solving is to be expected I guess. But you don’t want that in a Robin Hood game. You want to do Robin Hood things. In Longbow, instead of putting a rattlesnake in your path they would have just said “there’s snow blocking the mountain pass, wait for the spring thaw in a few days. In the meantime you can investigate the area, prepare for your journey, etc.”
There are no snakes in the path in Conquests of the Longbow, it all makes sense, except for the part where you have to turn into a tree, but oh well. Robin Hood, although a merry man, is also a serious one and on an important quest. He doesn’t have time to worry about bored rattlesnakes and in case you were wondering he never throws a pie in a yeti’s face. They could have just changed up King Graham’s palette a bit, drew a bow and quiver onto him and made a King’s Quest game with Robin Hood, but they didn’t, they made a real damn Robin Hood game with Robin Hood in it, and they also happened to make one of the better retellings of the Robin Hood myth to have ever been retold.
(exclusive high-resolution Action Button Dot Net screenshot obtained by quinten parker)