Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
When you think Sierra, chances are you think King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest… something with both ‘quest’ in the name and many, many deaths. The thing is though, most of their most interesting games were buried a little deeper, and they don’t get much better than Conquests of the Longbow. Which I literally just noticed has ‘quest’ in the name. Just like The Colonel’s Bequest. Still, I’m going to say it counts!
It was the work of Christy Marx, who put the same kind of research into her two games, the other one being Conquests of Camelot, that Jane Jensen would later put into the New Orleans voodoo scene. Conquests of Camelot was of course based on King Arthur, featuring one of my favourite deaths in all of Sierra’s catalogue (God himself dropping a portcullis on your head for not showing suitable piety before going out in search of the Holy Grail). Longbow however is one of my ‘games to still be inspired by’ list, with action that didn’t always quite work, but rarely stopped being clever.
In particular, while you played as Robin Hood, many of the actual puzzles and all of the days of the story involved hanging out with your Merry Men and acting as their leader. You called them in for backup, you worked out plans with them, and when you died… which would happen… they’d toast your legend as it was before getting on with business. All of the major moments of the story were included, from the archery contest, to Robin’s love for Marion (here more of a forest priestess type), to a few new ones, like druidic magic performed through one of roughly seventeen thousand manual look-up checks. This really was Copy Protection: The Game, even by 90s standards.
My favourite thing about it though is the Trial. As with most Robin Hood stories, Longbow ends with the return of King Richard… largely in this case helped by Robin having paid off his ransom to bring him home. The catch is that he walks in on a Robin whose luck has run out, and who is about to be hanged for his crimes. Cue a sequence where every decision you’ve made in the game comes back, as the game sits back and rates whether or not you actually were a noble hero or just a common bandit, with a range of outcomes leading from complete exoneration to Richard just going “Actually, you’re right. Hang him. He’s more full of shit than an unattended colostomy bag.”
Admittedly, it’s all but impossible to get that outcome unless you actively try, but the simple concept always stuck with me. A similar courtroom sequence in #notpc RPG Chrono Trigger would do the same. Marx created a world where heroism was expected, but with the freedom to fall short of the standards you knew from the start you were meant to embody. That was a fascinating approach to alternate endings for me, and still one of my favourite last minute twists in any game’s morality system.
And probably the second best ending to a Robin Hood story ever.