Over 30 years ago, before I was even a thought to my parents, Shadowgate was first published. Very quickly, the game amassed a huge cult-like following, as more and more people fell into the trap of its darkly beautiful atmosphere, and whilst the game only increased in difficulty the further you progressed, them more determined people were to overcome these obstacles.
The game was originally released on July 30, 1987, on the Apple Macintosh. The game was later on released on the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), the Nintendo 64 and on the Game Boy Color as Shadowgate Classic.
As I had said previously, the game had been released before I was born. By the time I was old enough for my parents to allow me my own console, (which was my older brother’s hand-me-down Super Nintendo), Shadowgate was not even a blip on my radar! The game would have been over 10 years old at this point and I was too busy playing Castlevania, Batman, and Mortal Kombat (again, thanks Bro!).
Fast forward to 2014, Zojoi picked up the rights to Shadowgate and ran a Kickstarter campaign to remake the game for modern PCs. While staying faithful to the overall objective of the game, many of the puzzles, enemies and more had been re-imagined. It is only now, in 2019 that I have finally decided to open my eyes to the world of Shadowgate on the newly released PlayStation 4 version.
I found myself quickly impressed by the art style of the game. Its startup menu screen is of a dark and sinister looking castle, surrounded by thick fog and mountains. Our hero is standing on the edge of a cliff, blade in hand, ready to face off against his foes.
The artwork in Shadowgate is a huge selling point for me. Each scene and every cut scene had been hand painted to beautiful detail, with brush strokes emphasizing the artwork. Painted with Gothic elements, they really did add such depth which helped create this dark and stunning atmosphere.
It’s only during the opening Cinematic that you discover who you are, and your purpose.
Your name is Jair Cuthegar and you have traveled far through treacherous mountains and forests overrun with great beasts. Overwhelmed by prophetic dreams from a wizard named Lakmir, he beseeches you to travel to Castle Shadowgate and fulfill your destiny.
You are The Seed of Prophecy, a descendant of a line of champions and it is your duty to infiltrate the castle and defeat the Dark Warlock Lord who is trying to raise the powerful demon Behemoth from the Underworld. You start your journey with only a torch and a Dirk, and must use your courage and wit to outsmart the Warlock and get through the castle and its obstacles.
Shadowgate gives you 2 options to begin, normal and classic mode, where normal is more forgiving to new players and allows your torch to stay lit and not run out. Classic mode offers 3 levels of difficulty, Apprentice (easy), Journeyman (medium) and Master (hard). As you go up in difficulty you’ll find your torches won’t last as long, the puzzles become more complex, with less time (game moves) to complete your tasks.
You are also given the option to play the game on ‘Ironman mode’ which will disable saving, forcing you to try and complete the game without dying, making it significantly harder.
So that I could get a better feel of this game and not have the pressure of finding more torches, I picked to play the normal mode. I knew that I would probably encounter puzzles that I would struggle with, and I was focusing on gameplay more than difficulty.
Shadowgate does give you an optional tutorial at the start, which tells you how to interact with the world around you. The game is played in a first-person perspective and you control a cursor that can be used to interact with the static scene in front of you. You can interact with most things in the scene, either by looking at it, picking it up or even hitting them. As you hover the cursor over what you want to interact with, it will offer you a shortcut that you could use, but be warned, as this may not be your best course of action.
Once I figured out what I was doing I was grabbing everything I could pick up, reading every scroll I found and learned any spell that I stumbled upon. However, I did get to a point pretty early that I just could not figure out how to progress any further. I got really frustrated, and I really did not want to look for a walkthrough, just so I could progress.
Thankfully, I remembered that you have your companion, Yorick the talking skull. Yep, a talking skull that you happen to find on the ground at the start of the game. Thankfully, with the hint he gave me, I was able to progress further without any spoilers. Yorick will also pipe up with little snippets and anecdotes which are surprisingly funny, but if that not your cup of tea, just give him a smack and he’ll shut up until you hit him again.
Of course, this wouldn’t be an adventure game with a little death in it, and if you’re not careful, you just may end up meeting the local Grim Reaper. The cloaked figure, wielding their scythe and an hourglass will greet you like an old friend and end your journey. You will then have to go back to your most recent save and try again, hopefully learning from your mistakes.
I found it extremely satisfying to solve these difficult puzzles, especially as I got used to the obtuse and difficult challenges. I felt I definitely deserved a pat on the back when I did not even have to ask Yorick for his advice.
There are, of course, downsides to Shadowgate. The map itself is incredibility large, with multiple rooms to explore. However, you are not given the ability to fast travel, which is honestly an inconvenience and a bit of a chore. There are some parts to each room you go in that are not accessible right away, for example, you have yet to find the spell to unlock a new room, or found the right object.
So, when I came across these instances, I had to backtrack into the previous connecting room, then again, and again. Then once that’s done, you need to go all the way back again. Thankfully, I was enjoying the game more than the traveling was off-putting and was able to continue on.
The only other downside to Shadowgate is that I don’t believe the game will offer much replayability once you have completed the game. Unless you are planning to speed run the game or unlock all of the achievements available, I do not think there will be much use in restarting, as you would have already figured out how to solve the problems. Thankfully, the game does include the retro version, allowing players to immerse themselves into the older game, with probably more than a hit of nostalgia.