Shadowgate Review: Enchanting nostalgia, or a dimming torch?
As someone who played the NES version of Shadowgate over and over again, the most recent remake has been like a time machine. The word "nostalgic" doesn’t even begin to explain my experience of walking the halls of the living castle Shadowgate once more. This recent version looks beautiful, and is just different enough to stop me from plowing through all the puzzles I once knew all too well. A remake that encompasses the wistfulness of an earlier version with the tech and art of modern day is a rarity that Shadowgate nails.
For the Shadowgate veterans, right off the bat you’re overwhelmed with nostalgia. A more detailed versions of that very door you opened to start your adventure is literally staring you in the face. I found myself knowing where to go and what to do, yet not always being right. It's sort of like an alternative timeline where your everyday life actions are that are on autopilot are wrong. This is a wonderful thing. While I’m gung-ho for remakes, taking something from the past and polishing it up often leads to the same gameplay. In a puzzle game, differences are essential.
Shadowgate isn’t just for the vets, though. This game requires no previous engagement to fully enjoy your experience. It’s completely self-sufficient, tells the story (better than before), and just feels more complete; almost like this is the version of Shadowgate Zojoi always wanted to make. Other than some easter eggs and the tingles that will be sent down your spine when you hear the entrance music, you lose nothing by not playing the earlier versions. If you have a lust for adventure, you’ll be fine.
Think of Shadowgate as a RPG/adventure/point-and-click puzzle game. There will be combat, and what you’re equipping will matter in the fight. However, the fight will require you to wear exactly what you have equipped every time, since the battle itself is a puzzle.
Scavenging the castle, mixing objects together and finding what is perfect for each situation will be the majority of your gameplay. Logic will be your ally, and death will be around every corner. Literally. You die, and you’re greeted by death himself, who mocks you on how your adventure ended. It’s a sad thing.
The changes to the interface are for the better. You have the option of learning quick keyboard commands or clicking the icons at the top of the screen to do actions. Hell, double click an icon and take everything at once (preferably not when there is a dragon). The entirety of the right side of the screen isn’t taken up by a list of your inventory – all that junk is now in a satchel.
With more screen, you can see more of the updated and dark art the developers went with. After being used to NES graphics, the mere fact that the wraith moved was a delight to witness. Looking at side by sides of the same rooms from NES to PC will blow your mind (see below).
Movements from room to room are still slow. Since you only ever have one point of view on every room you come across, pressing the ‘Go’ option and then clicking on the map can be annoying when you’re trying to truck it across the entire castle. While a map has been added, being able to click on save rooms you’ve already encountered may have been a good feature – maybe take some time off your torch each time you travel in this manner.
While I do like the new interface, it can be clunky at times. Every command has to be so specific that if you accidently misclick, you can die or assume that isn’t how the puzzle is solved. For example, you can’t use vine with dirk, you have to use dirk with vine. It’s the little things. Obviously I’m not using the wraith on the torch but throw me a bone (not literally, there are like 7 in my satchel).
All and all, I’m a fan of the remake. The updates and upgrades make a fun experience for old and new Shadowgate players. This game is on the unique end of games though. It’s really tough, frustrating at times, and complex while being simple.
If you don’t like point-and-click adventure games, they game may not be for you. If you are a fan of the genre, looking for something difficult to tackle, or wondering why you haven’t played Shadowgate in 30 years, absolutely pick this up. I swear, the music will bring you back.
Historian, teacher, writer, gamer, cheat master, and tech guru: follow on Twitter @AndrewC_GZ