If you don’t have a home computer and your gaming experience is limited to Nintendo, you are not alone. For the last year I’ve been hearing from friends how I’ve been missing out on outstanding computer games, such as Maniac Mansion, King’s Quest, and the adult-themed Leisure Suit Larry. These are so-called point and click adventure titles that utilize critical thinking and problem solving, rather than hand-eye coordination. This month Nintendo owners are finally getting an adventure game like this in Shadowgate, which was originally released on Macintosh two years ago. If you happened to have already played this, the NES version has received a total makeover and looks completely different with the addition of detailed color graphics and amazing music.
Your unnamed character must stop the Warlock Lord from unleashing havoc on the land. To defeat him, you must traverse and explore Castle Shadowgate, which is jam-packed full of monsters, traps, magic, and secrets. This game certainly plays much differently than anything on the system, however, it is very simple to learn the mechanics of it.
Shadowgate utilizes what is called a first-person viewpoint, so rather than seeing your character you are basically looking through his eyes. Each room you enter is much different than the last, with each having several things to look at, and items that can be picked up or used on the spot. You’ll also see doorways leading to other rooms or corridors. Some of these you can move right into, whereas others are sealed or blocked and require you find a key, use magic, or find another method to progress. It is easy to backtrack to previous rooms if you need to do further exploring. Sometimes upon entering a room there is an immediate threat, usually in the guise of vile creature. In this case, you can either quietly back out of the room or figure out how to defeat or bypass the beast.
On your screen at all times are three separate sections. You have a big square that shows off the environment in detail, an inventory list that shows your belongings, and a command box that gives you access to verbs to perform functions. The D-Pad controls a skeletal hand, which can float across all three sections and is used to select items and issue commands. There are eleven commands at your disposal: Look, Move, Open, Use, Leave, Take, Close, Hit, Speak, Self, and Save. You’ll want to Look at everything in each room to get the lay of the land, gain hints, and piece together how to properly proceed.
There are dozens of items to pick up along your adventure, ranging from weapons and gems, to magic scrolls and seemingly useless things like a broom. Certain items must be used in conjunction with others, so you’ll need to be creative and persistent as there are a lot of areas you’ll potentially get stuck in. Trial and error is your friend and you’ll have to really use your brain to overcome the challenge set forth. Thankfully when you start the game there are plenty of areas to explore and this helps you get a feel for the gameplay and allows you to build up an inventory of items.
Then, when you do reach sticking point, you can start revisiting the previous areas. Sometimes you’ll need to open an item before it can be used, or use an item rather than taking it. Most mistakes are greeted with a “You Seem to Be Wasting Time” message, although some can result in death, and these are extremely common, creative, and often comical. Many occur when you use the incorrect item on a monster. Sometimes they’ll occur simply by going down the wrong ladder or using an item on yourself that you should not have. I believe I died in over 20 different ways! Luckily, the game has unlimited continues and even has a battery backup. There is a time limit of sorts. You’ll always need to have a lit torch and if this burns out, you will perish. Good thing torches are fairly common throughout the castle!
The variety of creatures and allies you encounter really adds to the experience. Along the way you’ll meet a dragon, wraith, cyclops, firedrake, and even a sphinx. These are well drawn and will make a lasting impression. The game plays so different than other NES titles, and as you are exploring static rooms, there is not a lot of moving animation. Still, each area has its own flair to it and nearly all are memorable.
I really enjoyed the writing in the game, particularly the humorous descriptions of your grisly deaths. While it doesn’t have the most detailed or original story, you are greeted with a little commentary when you enter each room. This really adds to the environment and makes Castle Shadowgate one of the most memorable settings in any game I’ve ever played.
The music is phenomenal and it is up there with Mega Man 2 as one of the best soundtracks of the year. The main entrance theme sets the eerie tone of the game perfectly. There are a few upbeat tracks, but most of them fill you with dread in the same fashion as scary movies with great chilling music like Halloween and The Thing.
The sole issue I can foresee with this game is the game’s lasting appeal. Once you solve a difficult puzzle, odds are you’ll remember it in the future, which removes the challenge. I certainly plan to replay this game again, but probably not for at least a year so I get a fresher experience. This game should take a long time to figure out everything and complete the game. However, if you were to do it all correct the first time, it could probably be finished in less than 30 minutes.
Some others may not like the lack of action in Shadowgate and impatient gamers may become exasperated with the puzzles. However, I think the overwhelming majority of gamers will fall in love with this title. Porting this from the computer to Nintendo went perfectly, and in this case it’s actually a vast upgrade graphically and in the sound department. The creepy music, gothic atmosphere, eerie storytelling, and sense of exhilaration when you finally figure out a puzzle make this a marvelous video game.
- Graphics - 8/108/10
- Sound - 10/1010/10
- Gameplay - 10/1010/10
- Lasting Appeal - 7/107/10
Final Thoughts: EXCELLENT
The best way to play this is in the dead of night, with all of the lights off, and the music cranked. I adored this gaming experience and I hope we see more adventure games like it hit the Nintendo library. There are loads of great new titles this holiday season, but this is the most creative and unique and is certainly a Game of the Year contender for me.
Aaron got his NES in 1991 and has loved and collected video games ever since. In addition to gaming, he enjoys Stephen King novels, Twins Baseball, and his cats.