Seal Your Fate Within This Living Castle of the Dead
I can still remember playing the original Shadowgate for NES back in the day as a child. I remember renting it from a local video store at maybe 7 years old, most likely just from the creepy gargoyle on the cover. From the opening title and entrance screen I was fascinated and instantly hooked. The ominous atmosphere, music, and artwork were right up my alley and I had to beat it. However, there was a huge problem. In addition to being unlike any other game I had ever played, Shadowgate had a punishing level of difficulty. It was an unrelenting point-and-click adventure where one false click equaled death, and with no strategy guide or internet walkthrough to assist me, I was left to fend for myself with only my memory and scrawls of paper to guide me. In the end, it was all too much, and Castle Shadowgate had defeated yet another gamer. My adventure had ended not far from the entrance door. I would go on to play and beat many games through the years, but occasionally think back to that crushing adventure that I had as a child and think, “Now that I’m older and wiser, could I beat that game now?”
And now thanks to Zojoi, Shadowgate has been brought back from the dead and into the current gen, re-imagined with beautiful artwork and music. I now get to answer that lingering question and the quick answer is – no. Shadowgate is just as unforgiving and brutal as I remember it. But the game is so gorgeous and immersive that I don’t care. Zojoi has redone everything about this game except the difficulty and retro style adventure gameplay. That’s exactly what original fans wanted, and thankfully that’s what we got. But be careful what you wish for.
Besides the difficulty, the two things that stand out the most about Shadowgate are the artwork and music score. The visuals look like stunning watercolor concept art paintings with just enough animation to make the castle feel like an actual structure. There will be many times in your playthrough where you will stop to just take in the awesome visuals, such as early in the campaign where you find a giant statue of a warrior with a waterfall flowing from its mouth. In addition, hitting F11 brings the game into “Immersive Mode” where the UI fades out for a full screen view of the level. Moving your mouse over the HUD will bring it back to the forefront. I enjoyed this option as it allowed for a better view of the artwork and made the UI less cluttered.
The music score is equally impressive. A fully orchestrated re-interpretation of the original Hiroyuki Masuno score, it is one of the most memorable video game soundtracks I’ve heard in quite some time. The way the score changes to reflect the gameplay is impressive as well, such as the eerie way the danger music rises as your torch starts flickering before it goes out.
One area where little change has taken place is the UI. Throughout Shadowgate you will be inputting commands in a linear sequence as if you were programming a simple machine. Commands like “Look”, “Hit, “Use” and “Open” are used to traverse the castle, and inputting one of the sequences out of order will result in nothing, or worse, death. For example, attempting to read a scroll that you found requires you to “Open” it, then “Look” at it. Another example is trying to manipulate a lever system; whereas “Use” lever on “Thyself” does nothing, “Use” “Thyself” on the lever will operate it. While the user interface is unashamedly old school, any changes to modernize it would result in hand-holding and catering to a different audience than the hardcore fans, and that is something this game refuses to do.
Fans of the original Shadowgate know exactly what they are in for. This is a brutally old school point-and-click adventure that will have even hardcore fans scratching their heads over how the hell to make it to the next room, thanks to things like the little updates to puzzles to keep these old school gamers on their toes. Will newcomers enjoy it just as well? My feeling is no, this game is just too difficult, cerebral and cryptic for the casual fan to get anything out of it. Even I, who knew what I was getting myself into, found myself with my hands in the air in disbelief over how merciless this adventure is. That being said, I still keep coming back for more, as I need to see the further reaches of these dungeons and what this castle has in store. The young boy on a weekend video rental who failed all those years ago is back to exact revenge on this evil castle’s latest form…this is the stuff legends are made of, right?
- + Beautiful artwork
- + Great soundtrack
- +/- Punishing old-school difficulty