The godfather of adventure games. The title may be a bit too much to bestow upon Shadowgate, but there is little doubt that it had played a role in igniting the adventure game genre in the late 1980s, with the NES port being particularly popular. Almost 30 years later, an ambitious reimagining of the original game for the modern PC was developed and released by Zojoi, a small game development company. Though the setting is largely unchanged, the new rendition offers a plethora of updates and improvements to the original.
Shadowgate is the very essence of the point and click adventure game. After an introduction of the character and premise of the story, you are thrust into the game with nothing more than a dagger, a torch, and your wits. The game is played through almost entirely in a first person perspective. Each room you find yourself has multiple objects to interact with, however this looks simpler than it is. There are nine different actions that can be performed on an object. This includes the standard Use, Look, Go, Speak, but also some unorthodox actions like Eat, Close, Hit, and so forth. You must rely on your own common sense and knowledge of the world to perform the correct action. For example, in order to read a scroll, you must first ‘Open’ the scroll, then ‘Look’ at it. Objects in the room are, for the most part, fairly easy to spot, but sometimes you’ll find the need to click through every corner of the room in order to find anything out of the ordinary. Fortunately, clicking on an object will highlight it, allowing you to visually confirm its place in the scenery.
Though this system performed relatively smoothly, there were times when it seemed unnecessarily convoluted. If I wanted to pull a lever in the game world, it was not enough to simply ‘Use’ the lever. To complete the action I had to perform the ‘Use’ command on ‘Thyself’, then on the lever. The game does very little to guide your seemingly foolish actions, but you do have access to a talking skull named Yorick who will provide hints (and sarcastic remarks) as you require.
Your overall objective in Shadowgate is to stop a Warlock from putting the world into a state of perpetual darkness. You have a limited amount of time to do this, and with every command you perform a turn is used. The puzzles in Shadowgate are manageable and can be solved with intuition alone, but (like most games of its genre) they require a ‘perfect’ solution. There is little feedback as to whether or not you’re going about the wrong way to solve a puzzle or simply missing an item. The tedium of attempting to solve an endless stream of riddles may wear down the patience of some players, but fortunately there is the option to adjust difficulty. Depending on the chosen difficulty, the amount of time you get to beat the game, and the difficulty of puzzles, are influenced. Players of the original Shadowgate may opt for the harder difficulty first, but this rendition of the game adds many new puzzles and mechanics, so one may want to reconsider a knee jerk desire to crank up the challenge. Conversely, lowering the difficulty will make many of the puzzles easier and quicker to solve, with entire areas being removed to ease the difficulty.
Though this sounds counter-intuitive to a good experience, it’s important to note that removing those areas will ensure a much more casual and smoother adventure that doesn’t have you running around a maze of rooms in order to find a missing key component. Players looking for a more casual and laid-back adventure will find the easier difficulty much easier to digest.
Death will be a common occurrence in Shadowgate, and comes in many different forms. Ignoring the archaic warnings on an altar, entering a room without a shield equipped, spending too much time in a room can all be precedents towards the game over screen. The only remedy to this is to save your game often, and in multiple slots. That said, death should never be a deterrent to progressing, only a way to learn.
You have the option of choosing the new re-mastered soundtrack of Shadowgate, or the original NES chiptune track, along with a few other options for nostalgia factor. While the music of the game isn’t particularly remarkable, I did find the art to be impressive and convey a sense of grandeur, mystery and challenge, all themes that fit well in the game. I can attest to the constant sense of danger and secrecy as I navigated the darkened corridors of the castle, and the ever so subtle feeling of worry that came with opening the door to a new room.
Although Zojoi’s Shadowgate is marketed as the modern rendition of the original NES/Mac game, it is also much more than that. It is packed with an intriguing adventure with a plethora of puzzles, a re-designed UI, great art pieces and a dynamic soundtrack, while still retaining the spirit of the original title. The command system is not perfect and can feel slightly convoluted to utilize at times, and the tedium of solving cryptic puzzle after puzzle may wear down the patience of most players, yet despite these shortcomings, Shadowgate still remains a stimulating adventure, for both veterans of the and newcomers to the series.