|By Jason Vincion||Wednesday, 28 May 2008|
As with many of the NES games I played, I was introduced to this game through renting it at Blockbuster. I remember playing this game into the wee hours of the morning, and getting goosebumps from the death theme. All these years later, that song can still give me goosebumps. I do have to wonder about a few of the game’s influences – but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Shadowgate’s plot, as told by the game itself:
“The last thing that you remember is standing before the wizard Lakmir as he waved his hands. Now you find yourself staring at an entryway which lies at the edge of a forest. The druid’s words ring in your ears: ‘Within the Castle Shadowgate lies your quest. The dreaded Warlock Lord will use his black magic to raise the behemoth from the dark depths. The combination of his evil arts and the great titan’s power will surely destroy us all!! You are the last of the line of kings, the seed of prophecy that was foretold eons ago. Only you can stop the evil one from darkening our world forever!! Fare thee well.’ Gritting your teeth, you swear by your God’s name that you will destroy the Warlock Lord!”
HALLELUJAH!!! If a plot like that doesn’t put a little death or glory bloodlust into your veins, you must work for the IRS. While this plot is fairly standard for an adventure game, this one has a little more zest. A little more chutzpah than all the rest.
Shadowgate’s interface wasn’t updated from the original Mac version, so it’s still an interface meant for a mouse. With that said, the programmers at Kemco did a pretty good job making it work with the NES controller. It can be a bit slow at times, but nothing worth complaining about. I don’t think any other type of interface would have worked with this game, and the one they used was implemented very well, so high marks for that.
The first time you play the game through, it can get fairly hairy. There are quite a few items to be picked up on your adventure through Castle Shadowgate. Certain items have to be used precisely, or else you’ll be given an all-expenses paid trip to see the Grim Reaper (and hear his goosebump-inducing music). The puzzles can be somewhat frustrating the first time through, though you get to continue in the room just before you died and can try a different strategy the next time you attempt to progress further. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that you can save whenever you want.
If you don’t know what you are doing, this game can take about 2 to 3 hours to get through, so the ability to save anywhere comes in handy. On the other hand, if you do know what you are doing, you can probably breeze through this game in about half an hour. While the former is a good length for an adventure such as this, the latter is not. If you’re looking for a game with a lot of replay value, Shadowgate doesn’t fit the bill. A replay might be good to test yourself for a speed run, though.
As far as the aesthetics go, the graphics fit well with the theme. The barren grey walls that enclose the halls of Castle Shadowgate certainly add to the starkness of the game. The colors are used well and rarely clash. The pixellation isn’t too large, as a lot of things in the game are fairly detailed. The graphics definitely add to the eerie atmosphere of the game, though there’s one thing I have to wonder about. Check out this screenshot:
Pow? It seems that the programmers have been watching a bit too much old school Batman, though you really can’t go wrong with Adam West.
This game wouldn’t have half of the atmosphere it does without the music. Most of the music has a very tense and suspenseful feel, though there are a couple of tunes that stray from the equation. Those songs aren’t bad at all, just out of place. As for the sound effects, they certainly work very well with the game. Whether it’s a banshee’s scream, lightning striking, or getting torched by an irate dragon, they all sound like they should and certainly help to immerse you more into the experience.
Shadowgate definitely makes a good initial impression. It’s a blast the first time you play it through. There’s so much to this game to make it a highly creepy and enjoyable experience. However, it is extremely linear, and that really detracts from the fun of repeated playthroughs. You should probably spend quite a bit of time away from it before you play it again, so you can forget where everything is and come back to it with a mostly clean slate.