To explain why I absolutely needed this game, you have to go back to my days as a young child. My parents had bought me and my little brother an NES for Christmas fairly recently and we loved playing on that thing. In fact we were into it enough they actually subscribed to Nintendo Power for us, and this was how I met Shadowgate for the first time. One of the earlier magazines included a walkthrough for the game up till you face off with the fire drake about 1/3rd or so through the original title… and I devoured every inch of those pages, loving everything I found about the game. I knew a game this intricate HAD to be in my library.
My parents were apparently listening as I got the game for my next birthday… and then I had my first encounter with the grim reaper. Maybe as a kid, I had not had enough exposure to horror to be ready for it, but that thing creeped me right the hell out, and yet I couldn’t let him beat me. With that in mind, I faced off with the game again and again and finally, it was, if I’m not mistaken, the second game I ever finished since I started playing video games. (In case you are wondering, the first was Life Force, which I borrowed from a friend and took out with the 30 life code.)
Suffice it to say, this game stuck with me, enough so I would speed run it a few more times before I put down the cart forever due to the nature of the game itself. And I would ultimately get an N64 almost exclusively to play the one sequel I was aware of (even if I got it after it finished it’s run cheap). So when I saw the original being remade with new puzzles on Kickstarter, I got excited and already knew I would have this one too. And now that I finished my first playthrough of the new version… I have to say, it was worth the wait. Welcome to Castle Shadowgate!
Story: Our story begins with an ordinary soldier named Jair, summoned to travel the land. Across the forests and mountainside, this soldier follows his orders, taking with him only a dagger, a torch, and the courage to complete a monumental task. Somewhere up ahead, is the famous and ancient Castle Shadowgate. And within it, Talimar the Black is busy hatching a plan to use ancient powers hidden deep within the Living Castle and reign Hell upon the lands! Jair’s fate in riding out to prevent this evil is now the fate of everyone.
This really is all the introduction you will receive as your adventure begins and drops you literally at the front door. From here, you will wander the castle slowly piecing together what happened to bring the world to the brink of a mad-man’s quest for power, what the form of that power is, as well as even why you alone are the only one who can stop the dark wizard from finding and using it. These answers will come fairly naturally in the form of cutscenes during the game and messages you will find in journals, books, notes, and scrolls on your journey.
That is not to say the game’s story is very deep however, just well paced. In fact you will find it very standard fair with little to stand out from every other dark-fantasy story you will ever play in any other game. It is to be expected, considering this is a remake of a game originally developed for the monochrome displayed Macintosh back in 1987. Still, for adventurers who picked this title up to relive those old days, they will find the story has been embellished with details that just could not fit into the game when it was originally made as well as a twist or two that just don’t change much during the game, but completely change how it ends. Just don’t expect the new players to see why it’s different.
Graphics: If anyone came to this game looking for a high-tech marvel of the new age, I’m afraid they will be deeply disappointed. The views the game will offer consist of a single picture for each room, some cursory animations to show something moving, and cutscenes that consist of similar moving parts on occasion with text floating over it to a narrator’s voice (which can change depending on the scene). To be quite honest, from a technical perspective, this game could have been written in flash and been identical to the final product.
However, that is not to say that the game is not stunning. What it lacks in technological prowess, it more then makes up for in personal touches. Every one of those rooms and cutscenes and even the creatures you will see animated cross it are hand painted and absolutely gorgeous. The first time you start the game, you will immediately be floored for how different it feels. Sometimes people claim when they play a game it looks like they are playing a painting. This time, you literally are, from the very first to the very last room, and all the story-driven cutscenes in between, you will have the mood set by someone’s brush strokes displayed on your screen rather then pixels used to display them.
Over this work, the interface is clean and functional for the most part looking right at home where it belongs on the screen. But at the same time, it could have been a little better streamlined to fit the game. Still we will talk about that a little later on. As far as image goes, Shadowgate was meant to deliver a hand-crafted revision of the chunky and dated imagery we had from the 1980s, and deliver it did.
Sound: Much like the graphics, the music in this game will floor you. Taking heavy inspiration from the only previous version to feature music (the NES release of Shadowgate), you will hear some absolutely amazing orchestrated music that will carry you from begin to end of the title. Each piece seems to take inspiration from the room(s) it’s set in, from light but majestic to dark, heavy and ominous, making for a perfect fit. But the real treat for anyone on a nostalgia trip will be as the end credits roll. During those credits, you will get to hear the entire NES version’s soundtrack redone in a 4-5 minute heavy metal medley, and it is absolutely glorious!
Sadly, however this is almost all the sound you will get out of the game. There is very little in the way of sound effects and aside from cutscenes, absolutely no voice acting what-so-ever. So suffice it to say, I hope that like me, you enjoyed the music, or you will likely just want to play with your speakers off… and you won’t miss much as far as gameplay goes.
Gameplay: Shadowgate is a dark fantasy puzzle-game that plays something akin to the point-and-click adventure games of old. You will spend the majority of the game wandering around the castle, collecting objects and spells, and learning how to use them as well as the environment itself to move forward in your quest and complete the adventure. Each room will be represented by a hand-painted picture in which you will have to find the objects you can interact with as well as what you will need to do with them. But this game is not in real-time while you do this. Time in this game is measured in “turns” or each time you complete an action, allowing you to physically take all the time you need to figure out your next move, which is a good thing as this game has a few timers to prevent it from getting obnoxiously easy or boring as just “click everything until it works.” The most immediate of these mechanics are your torches.
Shadowgate is a very dark place, so you need a light to keep yourself from tripping and splitting your head open on something. Your torch is how this is done. You will start the game with one as well as find them throughout your adventure. However, they do not last forever, and when you see signs that it’s going to go out, (such as the flame flickering, the music changing to add some urgency, or even the screen slowly getting darker with every turn as your torch fights to keep alive and burning), you probably best have another one ready to use. However, there are times in this game where the light is no longer as important to keep on you, as you will have the option to light torches still on the walls and even a few rooms with ever-raging fires to light the way. I do not know if those are on a timer or not, but it does offer some alternatives or even the potential to create “safe rooms” where if your torch goes out, you can keep going or light a new one after the fact to continue exploring by.
The length of time these torches last as well as how many are available through the adventure will vary, mainly be what skill level you chose to play. If you play Apprentice, obviously the game will offer you the most and they last the longest, while Master will offer you a lot less and their lifespan will be significantly decreased.
Nor is that all that changes with the skill level. Each one will change what rooms you will have access to as well as the puzzles within. Some will get more difficult, while other rooms may simply offer entirely different puzzles to have to complete, making the game, despite it’s simple and relatively uninteresting plot, have the ability to be played through a few times before being completely done with it. And these puzzles on any skill level can be tough and/or obtuse from time to time. For help with these, you have Yorick, the skull that you will pick up via tutorial as the game begins on any skill level. Speaking to him will cause him to give you some clue as to what you are supposed to do, though some are definitely more cryptic then others.
And this game will definitely put you at constant risk. There are many ways this game will offer you to misstep and die, be it from things like orks firing arrows at you, trying to pick up the wrong book, or even a banshee's curse slowly killing you over time, expect to die in this game a lot. But thankfully between an autosave function and the ability to save at any time, most of your setbacks should be small, come with an entertaining (if graphic) quip as to your grisly fate, and bring you back into the game in a matter of seconds (loading times are almost non-existent). Still there is one death that is beyond frustrating and will likely be the reason most people start this game on easy: the banshee I mentioned just a little while ago.
This puzzle is the only real downfall in gameplay of the entire title and one of it’s only two real issues. Early in the game you will find a room with 4 coffins in it, and you will be required to open them to finish the game on every skill level. In the old NES/Mac days, one of the coffins contained a banshee who killed you outright the moment you opened the door, but this time, she works a little differently. Now, she comes out of the first one you open regardless and curses you. With the curse in effect, you must now roam the castle both to continue forward and to find a cure! The problem with this is there is now another timer to decide how many turns you have before you die, but unlike the torches, you have a lot further to go before you can cure it, no way to extend/restart the timer for it, and precious little gauge in telling how much time you have left, leaving the game in a position to very easily leave you a “dead man walking” who has no clue they can no longer win after making descent progress in the main adventure. It is unfortunate flaw that tarnishes an otherwise excellent experience for anyone who loves the idea of a castle full of puzzles that want’s nothing more then to kill you many many many times.
The other issue is the interface the developers chose. To put it mildly, it can be clunky, requiring 2-3 clicks to do just about anything, including look around. If you want to look at something in the room, you must click “Look” and then click on the item you want to click. If you want to flip a switch, you either click “Hit” and then the switch or click “Use,” the picture of Jair, and then the switch. And that is assuming you don’t want to use something in your inventory, which will require you to open and close the inventory window (which takes almost all the space NOT used by the UI). All I can say is thank god for hot keys, where you can use I for inventory or M for map. And yes, you can map up to 10 items in your inventory to the number keys, but without knowing what you are going to use often, this is kinda meaningless. Still, this is a fairly minor issue since as I said early on, this game is not real-time, but based on you finishing those actions, so there is no penalty for it taking a while in the game. Still, it would have been nice if “classic” mode had involved shrinking the screen down so you could fit the inventory on it without it covering the room like every version of this game (aside from the Gameboy Color port). It would have required trading looking at some of the art as big and impactful as possible, but it would have also been a small change that streamlined the game’s interface and reduced chunkiness.
Bugs: Throughout my dungeon crawling with Jair, no bugs in the game showed themselves to me. This game ran perfectly.
Overall: Shadowgate is a prime example of how to modernize a game right. It has some flaws here and there, but the spirit of the original is alive and well, tough as it ever was, and will thrill puzzle-solving gamers who take the time to enjoy the rich atmosphere and object based puzzles. If you enjoyed the original game in any of it’s incarnations in the late 80s (or even the Gameboy Color version in the late 90s), you simply must get this one. If you enjoy object based puzzles this is easily one of the best games to offer them in recent years and you should also get your hands on it. However, if a game needs to be action based for you to enjoy it, stay the HELL away.
Source’s Listed System Requirements:
- 2.4 Ghz CPU
- 1GB RAM
- Video card with 512MB dedicated video RAM
- Windows XP
- AMD Phenom II 6X 1100T (6 core) processor running at 3.3 Ghz
- 8GB RAM
- Nvidia Geforece 760 GTX with 2GB VRAM
- and Windows 7