If the hulking, happy hero of this game looks familiar to you, it’s probably because you’ve played one or both of Pixcube Games’ earlier efforts, Eiger Norwand 1 and 2, which were released in rapid succession this summer. Both games star the same William Tell you control in Crossbow Warrior, but Eiger Norwand’s objectives were relatively simple: reach the top of a mountain, race through the countryside to chase a billy goat off a bridge. Crossbow Warrior, on the other hand, is an expansive 34-level version of the Tell tale in its entirety, with a difficulty level so high that beating the game will make you feel like a legend in your own time.
14th century Swiss folk hero William Tell saved his family and his home from the oppressive Austrian Habsburg Monarchy by assassinating the despotic Hermann Gessler with his now-legendary crossbow skills. The game follows each of Tell’s feats, beginning with his refusal to kneel before Gessler’s hat, whereupon he is forced to shoot an apple off his son’s head. Tell is taken on a dungeon-bound sea voyage, when a violent storm frightens his captors into begging their musclebound prisoner to take the oars. This facilitates his escape, allowing him to run cross country to intercept and slay Gessler. In addition to this faithful reproduction of the legend, the game also gives you a taste of the extraordinary difficulty of Tell’s challenges. You may not need his superhuman strength or expert aim to beat this epic platformer, but you will need spectacular reflexes and extreme patience.
Crossbow Warrior offers a mix of gameplay styles, including Temple Run-type levels, boat levels and sniper segments along with its primary adherence to the platformer model. The minority levels are sufficiently challenging, but simply dodging and leaping over obstacles is a piece of cake compared to the trials you’ll face in the platformer levels. The controls—handsome woodgrain Left and Right buttons on the lower left, Jump and Attack buttons on the lower right—are responsive and accurate down to the tiniest gesture, which is great news since you’ll have to hit your marks perfectly to progress. Whether you perch on the tip of a fjord or plummet into a pit trap will depend on how you hit the ground down to the last pixel; learning to leaping sluggishly through waterfalls just-so in order to land on a platform barely wide enough to stand on, for instance, can take an eternity of practice. You can choose to fell Habsburger goons with an arrow by holding the Attack button and tapping the backward-facing directional button to aim (as if you were drawing a bowstring), but if you wish to wisely save your ammo, you can hop on their heads to knock them out. However, if you don’t hit them exactly right, you’ll find yourself standing on top of them as they squirm around, and risk sliding off to find yourself at the ends of their blades. Crossbow Warrior is diabolically difficult, and for that, all the more addictive.
Each level is impressively composed, but Pixcube has devoted every bit as much attention to their excellent 3D graphics. Players who know the developer as a supremely competent animation studio will expect the high level of polish on Crossbow Warrior’s imagery. Every character, from the hero to the Muppety-looking Habsburg thugs, seem Hollywood-ready, with impeccable designs and fluid motion. The environments never cease to amaze; even a snowstorm is rendered with multiple depths of falling flakes, and enemies like wild salmon and swooping birds of prey may attack from the background to the foreground, even in a side-scrolling level. The map that displays your overall progress is just as detailed as the levels themselves. The color palate is rich and varied, and the changing perspectives, from side-scrolling to birds’ eye to behind-the-back running, keep things stimulating.
Readers might guess by now that there are few flaws to pick out in Crossbow Warrior. Among them is the audio, which feels like a bit of an afterthought. Along the way, Tell picks up chocolate bars for bursts of speed, cheese to replenish his health, edelweiss and hidden apples for bonus points, and extra arrows—but the sound effects all sound like they come from different characters, be it a classic yodel for the chocolate, a Wayne’s World-style “schwing!” for an arrow grab, or a Cookie Monster-like “OOPS!” when he bumps into an enemy. The edelweiss makes only a tinkling sound, out of keeping with the other effects which are all character reactions, and curiously, striking an enemy with an arrow makes no sound at all. The musical score is made up of completely standard heroic orchestral themes, none of which are that bad, but all of which are completely forgettable, especially in the face of the game’s greater virtues.
All told, though, it’s inordinately difficult to complain about this game. Crossbow Warrior pleases and provokes on so many levels that the developers can be easily forgiven for some just-ok qualities in an otherwise superb and engaging app. If the upward trajectory in quality we see from Eiger Norwand 1 to Crossbow Warrior is any indication, we can confidently expect even greater things from Pixcube Games in the future.
Pixcube Games has expanded on previous Tell-themed efforts with excellent results in this gorgeous epic that offers multiple play styles, and leaves little to be desired.