I’ve always been a fan of point and click adventure games. My most cherished gaming memories were of my many playthroughs of Curse of Monkey Island, Sanitarium, and Grim Fandango. When I got too frustrated trying to beat that carnival stage boss in Sonic 3, I’d turn to adventure games for an entertaining and dying-free experience. I loved guiding the self-assured Mighty Pirate Guybrush Threepwood through a lush and detailed Caribbean pirate cove. LucasArts had people like me in mind when creating their most memorable adventure series, providing death-free gameplay, comedic story lines, and brilliant character design. Instead of battling an endless array of enemies or playing a level endlessly, adventure games lured potential players with eccentric puzzles and cinematic story lines. LucasArts fans may be weary of playing a game like Shadowgate. Developed by ICOM Simulations, Shadowgate is a timed and perilous adventure, wrought with wrong turns resulting in graphic death scenes and obtuse puzzles. As a LucasArts fanboy, I was a bit taken aback when i popped this game into my NES. The castle plundering adventure captivated me throughout its perilous hallways. Graphically it was very primitive, akin to a text adventure with a interactive graphics window. It did not feature voice-acting, animated characters, or straightforward puzzles. Nevertheless, Shadowgate is an underrated NES classic unique to the system and should not be missing in any serious nintendo collection.
Released in 1987 on the Apple II under the “MacVenture” series, Shadowgate became the first point-and-click port to the NES in 1989. You play as an unnamed hero, “The seed of prophecy, the last of the line of kings”, who must stop the evil warlock lord from summoning the Behemoth at Castle Shadowgate and destroying the world. Well, it’s not the deepest story line out there, but it’s the exploration of Castle Shadowgate that provides the most entertainment. The user interface resembles an archaic dungeon crawler on the PC, ala Ulitma, with three windows [Graphic, Inventory, and Text/Commands/Map].
It is a very different experience from the LucasArts and Sierra adventure games. Played from a first person perspective, you guide your character through the castle, unlocking doors to different rooms of the castle. Several rooms are unreachable without a specific item. The puzzles can be very obtuse and nerve-racking. For example, when encountering the troll on the bridge, you must use a spear to kill him, even though you have a sword, a hammer, and a sling in your inventory. If you use the wrong item on the troll, he kills you. The amount of items you can add to your inventory is gigantic — in fact, many items have no real use at all. During all of your exploring, you must pick up torches and keep at least one of your torches lit at all times. If they become unlit, the music will warn you of your imminent death.When struggling through puzzles, this can be very frustrating. If you do run out of torches, the game will take you back to the previous room and give about 5 minutes of gameplay. With a battery save on the cart, it is better to start back from a save than play without any torches.
Despite its difficulty, Shadowgate is one of the more versatile pc nes ports. The cursor is not too difficult to use on the game pad, but does have some trouble with accurate clicking. The inventory screen can be daunting to scroll through, as there are close to 50 items you can add to your inventory. Unlike other adventure games, the clickable items are easy to find on the screen.
Getting through the game takes about 2 hours with a game guide. The time it takes depends on how long it takes you to solve the puzzles. If you love RPGs and dungeon crawlers, you’ll love exploring every inch of the castle. Overall, it is a great NES game, worthy a place in anyone’s collection.
Shadowgate spawned two sequels, Beyond Shadowgate on the Turbo Grafx CD and Shadowgate 64 on the N64. The sequels were major departures from the original game, but still adhered to the adventure game format. Look for the remake of the original games by Zojoi coming in the future coming to pcs, iOS, and Mac. Check out their Kickstarter page and donate!