Side-scrolling shooters keep getting improved and reinvented over the years. Somehow, such a straightforward genre consistently produces some of the best video games known to man. In any time period, you can easily find a great scrolling shooter with the same core gameplay elements that were first present in Defender. Some shout-outs go to Contra, R-Type, and Gradius. It’s also common to find sequels and remakes to some of these older shoot-‘em-ups on modern consoles. Indie developers often turn to the genre since it’s a proven formula (as long as you add your own unconventional twist). A Quiver of Crows falls into this category, and the added personal touch includes original artwork and an exploration factor. It uses the common side-scrolling shooter elements, but brings a bit more to the genre.
A Quiver of Crows has a distinct art style that makes it appeal to interested gamers. It uses shading and layered landscapes to display a Gothic three-dimensional world. Badland, a popular game developed by the same studio, also employs this method. Both games give off a creepy atmosphere and don’t tell you much about the world you’re playing in. Most of the story is extremely vague and leaves the player to create it themselves. When games make imagination a key factor to enjoyment, they risk losing a portion of their audience. Some people simply cannot imagine the story, even when presented with great artwork and gameplay. I fell into this category while playing A Quiver of Crows, and had difficulty figuring out what was happening in the game outside of shooting enemies. I’m sure there’s a ton of symbolism and metaphors all over A Quiver of Crows, but I couldn’t quite break past the surface of the game. The enemies look like mouths, the setting often changes, and your objective as a whole is non-existent. Chances are that the story is right in front of me, but the problem is that I’m not seeing it.
Gameplay mechanics are very basic and easy to understand. The goal in each stage is to find three crows and free them from their cages. Along the way, you’ll be bombarded with enemies that are designed to follow you around. They are absolutely relentless, and can quickly create angry mobs that require tons of firepower to bring down. Some enemies fire projectiles at you that fill the screen with danger. Strangely, the dead bodies of enemies do not disintegrate, and pile up in each level. The bodies will sometimes get in your way and demonstrate the Gothic nature of the game. At the end of each level, you’ll receive a power-up that improves your basic or special attacks.
Exploration is what makes A Quiver of Crows unique. The crows you need to rescue are located in different areas across a maze-like map. Tunneling underground, maneuvering around obstacles, and frequently checking your map are all common occurrences throughout the game. Other side-scrollers are limited to left and right screen movement, while A Quiver of Crows lets you go vertically at times. Although the general sense of each level is horizontal, the vertical plane is a refreshing feature.
A Quiver of Crows actually forces you to face your fears. Several times, I desperately tried to avoid the hideous flying monsters who will do anything to hunt you down and kill you. I attempted to barrel through an entire level to reach the finish line, blasting down anything blocking my way with explosive abilities. Sadly, the strategy was futile, as the sheer number of opponents was overwhelming. The only way to beat a level is to slowly advance and face each and every enemy present on the map. Some will re-spawn once or even twice, but winning is impossible unless you keep beating them down. Leaving some enemies alive will unexpectedly hurt you once they pile up and hurl themselves into your face a minute later. A local co-op mode allows players to progress through A Quiver of Crows together. Fighting enemies with a companion by your side is always more fun than being alone. I do wish online multiplayer was also an option in order to give more freedom to the multiplayer mode, but it’s nice to see a game that still recognizes local multiplayer as popular.
A Quiver of Crows is a solid shooter with some original elements. As I previously mentioned, an online multiplayer option in the final version would be welcome by most, if not all players. Also, I’d enjoy watching some early cut-scenes that explain the backstory of the crows and their world. Even though symbolism is a great style of storytelling, the less imaginative players like me need some level of concrete information. I don’t think A Quiver of Crows is meant to re-define its genre or even become one of the most popular games of the year. It’s an artistic journey that’s sure to entertain and pose a challenge to anyone who plays it.
A PC preview code was provided by Sheado for the purpose of this preview