#559 – Shadowgate


Pretty intense cover for an NES game. Shadowgate got away with a fair amount, considering Nintendo’s strict censoring policy.



                                                                                  You think you’ve heard it all, and then….





GENRE: Adventure/Point-and-click

RELEASE DATE: December 1989


Believe it or not, the NES was home to some fantastic point-and-click adventure games. Originally released for the Mac in the late 80s (by ICOM, the same team who made Deja Vu and Uninvited), Shadowgate is a creepy puzzle-rific journey through an enchanted castle – and it doesn’t skimp on the challenge. Trap doors, false paths, and monster encounters will ensure that you see the screen below numerous times throughout your journey.



                                                                                             I’m pretty saddened by it, myself.


The goal is to explore the castle, collect any and all items you see, and take down the Warlock Lord before he raises the Behemoth. You have a number of standard adventure game actions, like Look, Use, Hit, Move, etc. Despite the lack of a mouse, navigating between the functions isn’t difficult. Every time you enter a room, take a hard look around. If you don’t find many items to collect, chances are, that room has a secret wall or a hidden item. Shadowgate eases you into its lair with baby steps, but frustration will abound as you get further into the game. Many of the puzzles are beyond obtuse (paging Nintendo Power! We need your help!). One of many examples: in the second half of the castle, there’s a room where you have to burn a rug with your torch to find a key, but there’s no indication upon entering the room that burning the rug needs to be your course of action… unless you Look at the rug (using the Look action). But why would you, it’s a rug? Your excuses don’t matter to Castle Shadowgate. For the love of your God (Shadowgate in-joke), Look at everything. Also, monsters almost always need a special item to be taken down. This isn’t an RPG in the slightest. Every kill, every step forward demands you to think outside the box. Use what you take. Experiment with everything. And always keep your two torches lit (torches are plentiful throughout the castle). Once your torches are snuffed, your life is soon to follow. Oh, and there’s no save function, so hunker down into your butt-groove and get ready for a long, arduous trek.



                                                           Cyclops are crafty. You never know when they might spring back to life.


If you can roll with the often-frustrating trial-and-error gameplay, there’s a lot to appreciate in Shadowgate. Eerie atmosphere, haunting music, and great writing really envelop you within the castle’s walls. NES ports of PC or Mac games usually stumble in their execution, but ICOM’s ports always look, sound, and feel fantastic. Put down Call of Duty and dust off your thinking cap: Shadowgate will stick a poker in your cerebrum.




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  • Good review, but… it is *very* optimistic of you to think any CoD player would put their controller down to play something that challenges them to use their mind.

  • I remember this and… another game, Voodoo or something or other – similar structures. Interesting and puzzle-like, though both were rentals for me and neither particularly ‘stuck’ for me either.

  • @Matthew: I know. A man can dream, though.

    @Chalgyr: Yeah, Shadowgate feels like a one-time playthrough, but a REALLY fun one-time playthrough

  • @Cahlgyr: I’m sure you’re thinking of Deja Vu.

    I can think of about ten more obtuse puzzles in Shadowgate than burning the rug, but that’s because I’ve played so many adventure games that it’s a surprise if there isn’t at least one rug that is hiding something. Often, it’s a trap door, but a key works, too.

    Despite the fact that Shadowgae should be a one-time play through, I have played it many times thanks to the music and the game’s mocking sense of humor.

  • I think the save in Shadowgate is battery backed save, the save command is in the lower right corner of the screen.

    I love the music in this game!

  • Anonymous

    This game both frustrated and amazed me at the same time. I would always end up running out of torches sadly though, so I think I only finished this well after I played it as a youth. Still I would come back to the game over and over again for the atmosphere alone.

    The hot room with the dragon was always intriguing to me. What had happened before? How many times would my shield save me from the deadly blast. How many adventurers had lost their lives before me in that same room?

    So many things to do and explore this game had it all. If only more games had come to the NES like this.


  • Loved this one…turned me onto similar games, which led me away from consoles…I maybe played 2 or 3 console games since the Genesis days, and they were ports of PC titles or had similar elements to those.

  • This is probably one of my all time favorite games – when I was young, my cousin had it. The music always made a strong impression on me! In fact, I think I was deemed to young to play it at the time. But eventually I hunted down an emulated version and eventually found a used version. I agree, lots of fun, creative little things in here, even if the story itself is pretty rote (why would the Warlock keep the components to the staff that can kill the Behemoth in the castle where anybody can find them, anyway?). The thing that I actually did have to luck up was the fact that, after using the freezing orb to freeze the lake, you’re actually supposed to take it back and then use it somewhere else!

    This game also had some good, creative deaths. I always got a kick out of the mirror that led into SPACE!

  • Rom Woodhouse

    Totally engrossing game. It’s recently been remade for PC.

    I bought this in 1992 from a shop that kept all its NES games behind glass and would only let you look at one at a time. As a speech-impeded 13 year old I was too shy to ask to look at more than a few games and this must have been one of only a couple I looked at. I spent all my savings on it, mostly in the strength of the box art.

    Good choice, and I eventually finished it without any tips.