OK before the days of Resident Evil, Silent Hill and even Alone in the Dark there was Shadowgate, one of the games that put ICOM simulations on the map. At this time in gaming history mature games were unheard of, games were for kids that’s all. Shadowgate was one of the first games that wasn’t designed for 10 year olds, it was geared to scare or at least bother an older audience. That alone made it revolutionary, but it wouldn’t really be until the days of SEGA CD that older gamers became even a niche audience.
Shadowgate didn’t rely on zombies jumping out or lots of visual gore to scare people. Heck the NES couldn’t handle that anyway. So Shadowgate relied on good old fashioned text to create an atmosphere and explain your gruesome death (which happened all the time, more on this later). Yes, Shadowgate plays like an old school text adventure or a really advanced Choose Your Own Adventure book. In the game you were the last of a line of kings to take down an evil wizard. You didn’t have a gun, a sword, or even a key its you and your lone torch wandering in the castle. Once inside you would have to go through some standard adventure stuff (read: bring a particular item to be used at a particular place). Time was against you because if your torch ran out you were dead. Actually almost anything you would do would lead to your death. Picking up a book, opening a door, walking into the wrong room all lead to a trip to see the Grim Reaper. The writers seemed to have a lot of fun creating different deaths for your character. Each one is well depicted and totally different, some even have great quotes such as "you pay for your curiosity with your life". You’ll probably want to go though and check out each death sequence since they are so unique.
While seeing each death sequence for the first time is entertaining, constantly dying is not. Sadly, you will be dying a lot in Shadowgate. If you play through the whole game without any help expect to die at least 100 times. Mix this with not so logical puzzles and you’ve got a game that’s pretty frustrating. The only relief is that you have a save feature that you can use at anytime so you can quit the game before throwing your controller against the wall. If you do solve all the puzzles there is a sense of achievement as you put the game on the shelf to never play again. There are no second endings or optional solutions to the puzzle, there’s nothing at all to make you want to pick up the game again unless you want to show off your skills or want to see some of the funny quotes.
Graphically, the game looks pretty nice. The monsters and backgrounds are well detailed for only having 16 colors for the entire screen. Hey that Grim Reaper looks pretty creepy… in the dark … when you’re five years old… back in the 80’s. The screen transitions when you move through rooms are pretty cool wipes. The music in the game is pretty cool too, it packs a spooky punch for the most part. Until you get into the lab later in the game where the music is down right annoying. Some of the sound effects get repetitive as well, such as when you go into a new room.
Hard to find?
Shadowgate isn’t the hardest NES game to find. If you check a few Gamestop’s you can pick up a copy and there are always copies floating eBay.
+ Pros: Awesome graphics, complex puzzles, hilarious quotes
– Cons: Once you play it its done with, archaic gameplay that most people barely remember, constantly dying
Overall: Shadowgate is worth a play through if you have a Nintendo. It’s a great example of adventure gameplay and displays some of the best graphics the NES can dish out. However, once you get done with it don’t expect any more.
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