Review | 11/1/2016 at 8:00 AM

A Quiver of Crows Co-Op Review

Congratulations, you're dead!

Have you died in the last 20 seconds? You obviously haven't been playing A Quiver of Crows, a twin stick shooter from Sheado that sounds like a secret follow-up to Game of Thrones. In reality, it's a unique spin on the shmup genre that draws its inspiration from classic games of old. You know, back when they killed you instead of giving you a tutorial every four seconds.

Here's what it's like to be a crow. You start with a basic weapon, the type that shoots out little bullets at a reasonable speed. Since this is a twin stick shooter, you can roll all around and fire in any direction. That's good, because enemies will be coming at you from every direction. All of the time. And they never stop. And you can't run away. And oh my crow-god somebody help me I just need to--there, I died. Time to restart the level! The basic goal is to explore the two dozen plus stages to find your trapped crow buddies and set them free.

When you do manage to stay alive long enough to progress, A Quiver of Crows rewards you with about half a dozen different upgradeable weapons, everything from spread shots to lasers and a tractor beam like attack, and several different special moves that help you in a pinch. All of these upgrades and downgrades happen on the fly, which is a really good pun you should be laughing at since you're playing a flying crow.

Enemies will cause you to invent new curse words. Most shooters set foes on some kind of pattern, allowing you to learn their behaviors and plan accordingly. A Quiver of Crows says "Nope. You gonna die.", sets the enemies to charge straight at you, then watches and laughs as you struggle to survive. In addition, enemy spawn points seem to be random, meaning you literally never know where they'll come from next. Think you can backtrack a bit to get out of a tough situation? Nah, enemies are flying at you from behind, too. Spin and shoot, young crow. Spin and shoot.

After a handful of levels your little crow will be kitted out to the max. Several weapons, several special moves, and a whole lot of chutzpah. The game constantly cranks up the difficulty with new enemies to contend with, including a couple of boss fights that will probably make you wish you were never born. The good news is that the game encourages you to do more than just hold the fire button and dodge enemies. Switching between weapon types is the best (and sometimes the only) way to defeat some foes, especially when you've got undead beasts nipping at your tail feathers from all sides.

Local co-op in A Quiver of Crows, which I insist on calling "crow-op", works just like an old school shooter by dumping two players into the fray at the same time. Progress is saved separately from the solo experience, which could be good or bad depending on how often you play with a friend. Any sharing is strictly on the players to work out between themselves, as is most of the actual cooperation in the game. If the two crows split up and move around the screen, expect to get eaten by baddies. If you focus and actually work together, the high difficulty is curbed slightly and you might just stick around long enough to see another level. It's worth noting that the game requires two controllers for local crow-op.

I'm a PC gamer, which means I split my time between mouse and keyboard controls and using the variety of gamepads sitting in a box beneath my desk. A Quiver of Crows recommends using a gamepad, which I was fine with since the only genre I refuse to use gamepads with are first person shooters. However, I didn't have much luck rolling analog sticks around to move and shoot. The already painfully difficult game was nearly unplayable. The minute I switched to keyboard and mouse, all better! I freely admit this is a matter of preference and not some fault in the game. Consider this a public service announcement to think about your PC peripherals when booting up the game.

Digging into the heart of A Quiver of Crows, there are a couple of issues I feel could use some tweaking. Levels are long, open, and exploratory in nature. You'll do a lot of flying around, checking your map, and backtracking, all while beating down enemies with a constant stream of crow laser fire. Stages last for minutes at a time, longer if you play it safe and smart (and you really should). The issue that arises is when you die. Death resets the entire stage, there are no checkpoints. Since you'll be visiting the grim reaper all the bloody time, frustration quickly sets in. Replaying parts of the stage over and over becomes a chore, so much so that half the time you'd rather just turn the game off than keep plugging away. You could easily write the lack of save points off as a throwback to the days of old, but honestly, a mid-point save would be really, really nice.

A Quiver of Crows wants you to try, fail, try ten more times, then get better. I believe the turn of phrase is "git gud". The high difficulty will likely scare some players away, as this isn't the sort of game that wants you to succeed. What it lacks in broad appeal it makes up for in originality. I mean, you play a crow that shoots skeleton birds. You plow through corpses stacked on the ground. You get caught on scenery and watch as some clam hawk thing bites you in the face. That's not something you'll get to experience in any other game, let alone a twin stick shooter.