Review

Shadowgate Review

  • Game release: August 21, 2014
  • Reviewed:
  • PC

Dungeon master.

If you've been playing games for a long while, the Shadowgate name is probably familiar to you. Since it helped spark the adventure game genre back in the 80s, Shadowgate has been ported to a variety of systems, most famously the NES. You used a lot of the same commands as in a text adventure like Zork--"go" here, "take" that, "eat"--but a graphical representation of each room helped you navigate and solve puzzles. This new Shadowgate, a reimagining of the original, operates in more or less the same way. But while it's the same quest in spirit, much has been changed, added, and improved in order to make this a throwback adventure worth exploring whether you have nostalgia for it or not--provided you're ready to do a lot of pointing and clicking.

Shadowgate drops you in front of a locked door with nothing but a dagger, a torch, and your wits. An optional tutorial walks you through the first few simple puzzles, but for the most part, you are on your own. The perspective is first-person, and all exploring is done by moving between mostly-static (though wonderfully illustrated) images, or rooms. Each room has its own objects of interest, which you interact with via a variety of verbs like "hit," "look" or "open." Time only moves with each of your actions, leaving you free to stop and stare at the scenery as much as you'd like. You must keep a close eye on your torch and replace it if the light starts to go out, but Shadowgate is a largely slow-paced affair.

Giant eyes made of fire aren’t usually what you want to see when you enter a building for the first time.

If you get stuck trying to figure out a specific mechanism or wondering what item might be useful in a situation, you can get a hint from your sole traveling companion, a skull named Yorick. This is good, because there's so much to look at and interact with that it can be overwhelming. Yes, you can use your torch to burn a rug and find two gold coins underneath it. Will you need them? No. On one hand, such unnecessary interactions are great, as they give you a better sense of freedom than many point-and-click adventures, which usually limit your interactions to a few key objects. On the other hand, it means your inventory can get cluttered, which is a pain if you prefer to brute force your way through puzzles by using every object on every other object, just in case.

If you find yourself using certain items or commands more than others, you can bind them to the number keys on your keyboard. This is one of several ways the developers have streamlined the experience; thanks to another tweak, a double click will usually look at an item or move in a direction, depending on what's clicked. (This doesn't always work, though. Don't hesitate to try the "go" command if you think you should be able to move somewhere.) Nevertheless, there is still tedium to struggle with. There is no overall quick-travel system, for instance (aside from a few shortcuts), so if you need to go from one side of the world to the other, you must make the long walk screen by screen, click by click. There is also some degree of pixel hunting, as it can be easy to overlook an item that you might need in the future.

Time only moves with each of your actions, leaving you free to stop and stare at the scenery as much as you'd like.

Expecto Patron... oh, wait, wrong hooded fantasy creature.

Unfortunately, Shadowgate also still suffers from the age-old problem that plagues most adventure games: puzzle solutions typically need to be very specific, and they aren't always intuitive. To be fair, this game is far better than its predecessor on that front, as most puzzles make logical sense and can be solved with wits alone. And even if you're wrong but on the right track, the game will try to nudge you in the right direction; for instance, if you try to use a dagger, the game might advise you to try something bigger (like a sword). For the most part, carefully reading clues and carefully thinking about the tools are your disposal will get you where you need to go.

But spending hours trying to decipher riddles doesn't make for the most welcoming experience, especially if you lack experience with the original game. Fortunately, Shadowgate does some interesting things with its difficulty settings. You can choose between three difficulties at the start of the game, and they make the quest easier or harder by actually adding or removing content from the game itself. For example, one of the very first things you see at the start of the game is a doorway with skulls forming an arch on top of it. On the game's easiest difficulty setting, this arch is missing one skull, which you have to find and place within the arch later in order to progress. On harder settings, it's missing three. Easier difficulties remove certain items, puzzles, and even entire areas.

You’ll probably see the grim reaper a lot.

Removing content might sound counterintuitive--why choose a gameplay setting with which you don't actually get to see the entire game?--but the effect is huge. By eliminating so many steps from the journey, Shadowgate becomes a lot more approachable if you prefer a more laid back journey. There is less chance of feeling lost, less chance of feeling paralyzed by confusion. Not only do these varied difficulty levels make this an appealing adventure to all types of players, but by adding diversity to individual puzzles, they invite you to make the trek a second or third time. The only catch is that some objects and options no longer serve a purpose on lower difficulties, which can be distracting. Players on earlier difficulties will find locked doors that can never be opened, and the game's hint system will occasionally give you information for puzzles that you never encounter, making them not just irrelevant but also misleading.

Death can come quickly in Shadowgate. Using the wrong item at the wrong time, being unprepared for a room, or even simply taking too many turns to explore may prove deadly. Saving often is key to avoiding frustration, though the game's automatic saves might rescue you as well (something they're more likely to do on easier difficulty settings). There are so many ways to die, in fact, that the developers have in a sense created an entire metagame around finding Shadowgate's special "hidden deaths," which are ways to die that are slightly more outside the box.

For the most part, carefully reading clues and carefully thinking about the tools are your disposal will get you where you need to go.

One death condition has the potential to be more annoying than the others, if you succumb to it. Relatively early on in the game, an enemy poisons you, an event that you cannot avoid. The game hints that you should take care of this sickness, but isn't specific about how long you have. Every turn you take after that point, a timer counts down to your death. Should you waste too much time trying to solve the mysteries of the castle, you could end up locking yourself into a no-win scenario.

Adventure games have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, but Shadowgate represents a different and currently rare kind of experience. It's unashamed of its roots, sometimes to a fault, but as an attempt to recreate a classic it succeeds far more than it falters. It doesn't do anything that would make the Shadowgate name as revolutionary as it once was, but it's an enjoyable adventure for old admirers and newcomers alike.



The Good
Wonderful new art evokes classic scenes
Smart difficulty options allow for more casual adventuring
Avoids many of the missteps common to older first-person adventures
The Bad
Walking and object hunting is sometimes tedious
7
Good
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Britton Peele took his first step into the castle with Shadowgate Classic on the Game Boy Color, which kept him up way too late for many nights afterward. He took a couple thousand turns to beat the new Shadowgate and spent some time with the various difficulty levels before writing this review.

Discussion

21 comments
bengio
bengio

I still laugh when I think about using the hammer on yourself in the NES version:
"You thrust the hammer into thy chest."

hitomo
hitomo

if u cant do graphics dont do games .. put all ur Money into hiring good artists, there are more then enough at devieant art ...

angeldeb82
angeldeb82

What a coincidence!  I played Shadowgate Classic too, just like Britton.  But what a good review!

physxy
physxy

Definitely on my short list of games I need to add to my collection or uhmmmm I mean play.

Gbullet
Gbullet

"Time only moves with each of your actions, leaving you free to stop and stare at the scenery as much as you'd like." Sadly you can´t stand still and stare for long because eventually your torch starts flickering and if the flame dies out ... you die. But an excelent review nonetheless.

abcdefgabcdefgz
abcdefgabcdefgz

I always liked this game on nes although I admit it can be frustrating and hard at times

abcdefgabcdefgz
abcdefgabcdefgz

they certainly dont make games like this anymore thats for sure. Im surprised they didnt turn this into some kind of action fps game

hellgast0
hellgast0

I never played the original, but I love adventure games and have played some text based once too.

Is there a way to try before buy?

nocoolnamejim
nocoolnamejim

This is one of those reviews where the actual written text leaves me with a more positive impression than the final overall score.

Not that a seven is bad by any means, but the actual written text paints the picture of a game that the reviewer enjoyed a bit more than that. I came away with a game that they enjoyed a lot but had a few quibbles with.

As someone who has fond memories of the original Shadowgate, I'll probably check this out at some point.

min64
min64

I don't understand why its getting a 7... 

Oh well, I'm playing the game and its insanely hard, just as hard as the old NES version i played as a kid. 

Playing on Master since the devs said that matches the difficulty of the NES version.  I honestly don't feel a games score should be lowered because its not changing or evolving the genre. The developers intended the game to play just like the original. Imo it gets a 9 ill drop one point because some of the UI is a tad big and clunky compared to the older version. 

uninspiredcup
uninspiredcup

Might And Magic X very much made me a fan of this style of game.

deliciouspoints
deliciouspoints

@Britton Peele, Dude 7 out of 10? Are you serious? Woww... who made you a reviewer? I mean I'm not riding Shadowgate but this is a 'Classic' which again not a reboot and it's people like you who always seem to prefer graphics over story plot. I mean gee of course it doesn't have Skyrim/COD/BF/Far Cry 4 or insert <state of the line triple A title> but jeezus christ, give them some credit... =(



jharring
jharring

"It's a sad thing that your adventures have ended here!!"


That skeleton dude creeped me out as a kid.  >_>

Darkhol0w
Darkhol0w

@hellgast0 There be a place where scallywags go to drink rum matey.

Sargus
Sargus

@nocoolnamejim I'm mostly just glad you read the text. :)


Shadowgate is very good. Hence the score of 7/10 ("Good"). It's a game I enjoyed quite a bit, you're not wrong. And if you were a fan of the original game, I think you'll really like this one.

Sargus
Sargus

@deliciouspoints Hi, I'm the reviewer. I liked Shadowgate a lot, both as a fan of adventure games in general and as someone who spent a LOT of time playing Shadowgate Classic on the Game Boy Color (which you'd know if you read my bio under the review). It's a very good game that I don't hesitate to recommend. You do realize that a "7" means "Good," right?

Also, you have my preferences backwards: I definitely prefer story/gameplay over graphics.

xantufrog
xantufrog

@Sargus @deliciouspoints don't mind them - people on here rant about "every game getting an 8" and yet won't accept a score below that as remotely palatable.

naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

@fenster05 Don't waste your time, if he can't read the word under the number "7" then he sure as hell can't read your comment.

Shadowgate More Info

  • First Released
    • Android
    • iPhone/iPod
    • + 2 more
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    7
    Average User RatingOut of 2 User Ratings
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    Developed by:
    Zojoi Studios
    Published by:
    Reverb Triple XP
    Genres:
    Action