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Death and triumph: Reviving Shadowgate for a new generation

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Posted by: David Sanchez

I can't imagine it's all that easy reviving and relaunching a franchise from the '80s. This is especially true when you take into account that the franchise in question is a graphic adventure. This genre, while not without a following of its own, is most definitely niche, so it's easy to see how something like a new Shadowgate will largely appeal to a specific crowd. Still, reviving this iconic series is exactly what developer Zojoi has set out to do; and judging from some pre-launch footage and preview tours, it certainly seems like now's as good a time as any to do so.

In case you're not all that familiar with Shadowgate, you should know that it got its start on the Apple Macintosh back in 1987. Easily the most popular title in the rather short MacVenture series of titles, Shadowgate from developer ICOM Simulations and publisher Mindscape offered players a challenging yet addictive adventure that was filled with open-ended puzzles and satirical writing. A lot of the game's puzzles allowed for multiple solutions. The caveat here, however, was that if you failed a puzzle, you'd meet a tragic and horrid demise.

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The interesting thing was that dying never felt repetitive. I mean, Shadowgate players died a lot, but the actual deaths were different most of the time. You could be roasted alive by a dragon's fire breath or killed by a crazy wolf-lady. You could be sucked into space or, hell, even commit suicide. Shadowgate players got used to dying a lot, but they were often treated to different unique and creative death scenarios, making every instance of death feel fresh and strangely rewarding.

Due to the high challenge, the deaths were pretty brutal. Even then, Shadowgate never took itself too seriously. Sure, it was a difficult game with crazy death sequences, but there was an ever-present lightheartedness to the whole thing. Whether you were reading character dialogue or a bit of narrative text, Shadowgate was mindful to create an experience that made players smile and laugh, even when they were witnessing their character's fall.

It wasn't long (just about two years) before ICOM ported its treasured graphic adventure game to the NES with the help of publisher Kemco. While the level of popularity on the NES compared to the Macintosh version is debatable, there's no denying that this particular version still had a fairly good audience. Plus, it was in the NES port of Shadowgate that we got the iconic Grim Reaper game over screen. Yes, dying was indeed a “sad thing.”

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Now, though, developer Zojoi, a studio consisting of the original game's creators Dave Marsh and Karl Roelofs, is prepping to release a new Shadowgate. The upcoming game isn't exactly a sequel or reboot, but instead a complete revival of the famed series. It's a way for Zojoi to start fresh without necessarily rewriting the series' lore or telling a completely new story from scratch. The important takeaway is that the new Shadowgate will allow both diehard fans and newcomers alike to enter into the mad, mad world of this retro graphic adventure series.

After taking a look at the game for myself, I can certainly attest to the fact that there is indeed a place for Shadowgate in today's gaming world. Sure, HD graphics, online multiplayer, and wacky peripherals (I'm looking at you, Nintendo) have become the norm, but then so has an appreciation for the old school. If anything, now would be the perfect time to bring back Shadowgate. It's a series that's vintage enough to garner interest from the fans that loved it during its heyday, as well as folks who've never touched it and just dig this type of grueling yet satisfying death-fest.

If you want something a little different, a bit classic, and potentially ridiculously entertaining, then perhaps you should start getting hyped for Shadowgate. The game will land on the PC and Mac on August 21.

Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.

Tags: Shadowgate, Zojoi, MacVenture, Graphic Adventure

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