key review info
- Game: Shadowgate
- Platform: PC
- Gamepad support: No
- Reviewed on:
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Shadowgate is a veritable blast from the past, a piece of gaming history reimagined for a new generation to enjoy, and for an old one to revisit, enticing gamers young and old to embark on a journey of discovery and great peril.
Fueled by its old-time fans and by those who saw its potential on Kickstarter, the game is now out for all to enjoy, and offers a classic-flavored point-and-click adventure, made in the image of a legendary title from 1987.
The game features countless puzzles to solve and enemies to defeat, in beautiful hand-drawn environments, set to the tune of a great, atmospheric musical score.
You are cast in the role of a more or less willing adventurer that has to traverse the depths of an ancient-living castle, hoping to defeat the evil that has taken residence within, and corrupted its halls, the resoundingly titled Warlock Lord.
As the "last of a great line of hero-kings," it is your duty to rid the world of the evildoer, who is trying to summon an even greater evil from the depths of Hell.
As such, delving into the unknown halls of Castle Shadowgate, you will make your way to the Warlock Lord and slay him, while uncovering countless mysteries along the way, or, much more likely, die trying.
Instead of taking the obvious route of telling other ambitious warlocks that one among them thinks himself better and letting them solve the issue among themselves, you equip your trusty nothing and delve into the adventure.
You would think that you would at least bring some weapons along for the ride, but the game starts off with you scraping by on second-hand swords and shields from the remains of whatever unfortunate souls you stumble upon.
The action takes place in a series of rooms, where you get to interact with various items and make choices that can quickly spell your doom.
You see a dragon revving up its blowtorch glands? You'd better think fast and take cover before it's too late. Anyway, in most cases it will be too late, and the power of hindsight will be your greatest teacher.
The game has a certain dusty charm to it, harking back to an era where death waited behind every corner for you to make a wrong turn, and Shadowgate is not afraid to flaunt its age: you will die a lot, and you will struggle to decipher its often inscrutable puzzles.
Virtually every action that you take that is not the right one in the situation will result in your death, but things have been toned down from the original, especially due to the fact that the reimagined experience is now, as expected, much richer.
The first-person perspective and the action menu are other elements that are reminiscent of the old Shadowgate, as is the ancient and rudimentary interface, that requires a lot of fiddling around with to get things done.
Another aspect that ups the difficulty of the game is the fact that if your torch expires and you don't have a replacement, you'll die, which effectively puts a time limit on the game, since you only find a finite number of torches lying around waiting for someone to pick them up, and there's no option to get back outside and chop down a few trees.
In addition to torches, you'll collect a vast assortment of items, from weapons and armor to seemingly useless trinkets, bones, and even magic spells, that you can then use on the few hotspots in each room trying to get further into the game.
The bad thing is that some of the locations and puzzles seem impenetrable, even with the aid of the hint-providing talking skeleton companion that you stumble upon when entering the castle.
This will often result in you having to try every possible combination of items in your inventory, along with using yourself on everything, in the hope that you might get lucky and do something new whenever you are stuck, which will end up being tedious and costing you a lot of precious time.
There are many video game-y pitfalls, such as the fact that using a lit torch on an unlit one works as intended, but using an unlit one on a lit one does nothing, and other such technical issues where you have to use precisely the intended action for the job, like using yourself on what is obviously a door, because telling the game to open the passageway results in nothing.
Furthermore, getting a curse early on will kill you later, without you knowing it from the get-go, and will force you to restart the game. That means that, after that occurs, whenever you stumble upon something that you can't really make out, you'll feel tempted to load your game just in case, or make an extra copy of a save for later.
You can cure the curse, but it's an uphill struggle, especially since there's no readily available information at hand. While this was something acceptable 30 years ago, and I have fond memories of manually editing my XCOM saves to add stuff to my base, today they are just indicative of poor design.
The story bits are intriguing more than revealing, at least in the beginning, but there is a lot of content to go through, a lot of surprises, you only need to steel your nerves and steady your resolve long enough to get there, which, admittedly, can be pretty difficult, given the game's archaic nature.
Thankfully, the game's forums are teeming with life, and you're bound to find helpful players who can aid you without spoiling too much of the game, in case you find yourself thoroughly stuck.
If you can look past the archaic facade and you are an exploration and puzzle-solving enthusiast, you're guaranteed to have a blast with Shadowgate. It's a modern, retro-styled visual novel adventure and puzzle game that can keep you entertained for hours on end.
Visuals and sound
As Shadowgate is a remake of a 30-year-old classic, it has been recreated in the vein of its successor, respecting the mood and overall feel of the old adventure, and making everything that gamers enjoyed about the game bigger and better.
Everything is hand-drawn, there are a lot of variety, a lot of animation and interaction with the environment, in spite of the static outlook of the adventure title, and you can feel the passion and effort that were put into this project.
The sound production is another strong point of Shadowgate, with a lot of environmental and action-specific sound effects accompanying you in your journey, alongside a brilliant score, that even dynamically follows the action.
As an added bonus for old-school enthusiasts, the original NES music is also available in the game's retro mode, alongside more pixelated animations and retro-formatted text.
- The remake of a classic adventure
- Solid soundtrack
- Clunky UI
- Questionable design choices
- Overly difficult at times
- It feels dated
If you even remember the old NES or Amiga version of this game, you'll surely find Shadowgate a great source of entertainment, one with enough depth to go way beyond the all-encompassing power of nostalgia.
Following the original classic adventure, Shadowgate offers a retro-styled experience where everything has been carefully put together, from the voice acting to the beautiful graphics and the puzzles and challenges that await you beneath the castle.
The interface is a bit clunky, but the fact that you can rebind keys greatly helps in this department. You should be prepared to face many frustrating moments, but there will also be redeeming ones, especially when you manage to solve a cryptic riddle and best another puzzle.
There are many relics from an age where nobody knew what they were doing, and many questionable design choices made for the sake of nostalgia rather than quality, which makes it hard to tell whether the bad things in the game were put there on purpose or whether they are just indicative of bad design.
But overall Shadowgate is another solid offering for puzzle-solving and adventuring enthusiasts, one that comes with a pedigree and a healthy dose of retro charm.