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….
DEVELOPER: ICOM Simulations
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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