Review: Shadowgate (2014)


Rebirthing the Beast

I’ve mentioned in a past article that the adventure game genre is beginning to make a comeback. I usually like to open reviews with discussion about a game’s genre or history, but I’d just be repeating myself in this case. I’ll just sum it up quickly: the point-and-click adventure game is becoming popular again.

How about a quick discussion of something else then? In this case, let’s go with Kickstarter, which has been all the rage in indie game development lately. Uncountable amounts of indie developers have successfully funded their games through crowd sourcing with Kickstarter. Kinds of games that’d never see the light of day in the gaming industry’s current direction have made it into our hands regardless. Sure, there’s a bit of controversy to it (you’re basically throwing money at someone and hoping they keep their promise that they’ll use it correctly…which doesn’t always happen), but in my opinion, Kickstarter has done good for the gaming community.

A number of nostalgia-based Kickstarters have been run and funded as well. Old school games that fell out of the memory of the general public are now seeing remasters and remakes funded by their biggest fans. Wasteland, the spiritual predecessor to the Fallout series, got a sequel. Double Fine was able to return to their adventure gaming roots. Crowd funding is reviving old games and series for the nostalgic to play again, and introducing new generations of gamers to them.

The recent remake of Shadowgate, released via Steam on August 21st, 2014, was funded through a Kickstarter. Headed by the creators of the original game and released by developer Zojoi, this version of Shadowgate is a full remake of the 1987 Macintosh original, featuring highly-upgraded graphics and an expanded adventure.


Fulfill the Prophecy

In Shadowgate you play as Jair, a simple foot soldier given a deadly quest by a wizard named Lakmir. Jair has been chosen as the “Seed of Prophecy,” one who will destroy the evil Warlock Lord and bring peace to the world. To do this, Lakmir brings you to the entrance of Castle Shadowgate, which the Warlock Lord has made his base of command. The quest is simple: destroy the Warlock Lord.

That’s it. That’s the story. There are no major twists, no game-changing plot points to speak of. Enter the castle, find the Warlock Lord, kill him. Simple and straightforward. Shadowgate is more about the actual adventuring than the story that ties it together. You can find various books and scrolls throughout the game that expand on the world’s backstory, but there’s nothing much that affects the story that you yourself are experiencing as you play.


Death Looms Overhead

Despite being a complete overhaul of the 1987 original, Shadowgate‘s gameplay is an old-school straight-forward point-and-click adventure. You traverse through a maze of rooms, finding items and solving puzzles to make your way to the next section of the game. Shadowgate‘s interface, though, is quite clunky, even with the knowledge that it’s based off a 17 year old game. Rather than just clicking on what you want to pick up or where you want to go, you have to click on an item or the environment, click on one of multiple verbs on the top of the screen (“open”, “use”, “go”, etc), and then, if using an item on something else, click on another item. Its not horrible when you first start the game, but it begins to grate on the nerves as you continue playing.

Next to the adventuring, the real meat of the game is in the puzzles. Figuring out how to use what, what to use where, and where to even be at a certain moment is how you’ll be spending most of your game. At the outset, you are able to choose from three difficulty levels, which affects the difficulty of the puzzles. I played through on the medium difficulty, and while I was able to find hints through the game for some puzzles, there were others that I had no clue what I was doing. There was a switch puzzle early in the game that, try as I might, I could not find any hints for what I was supposed to even be doing. I had to resort to systematically trying every switch position possible until a cue popped up that I completed the puzzle.

This brings up another point about the game. Shadowgate is very difficult and quite unforgiving. The sheer amount of ways to die is staggering. Go to a place at the wrong time, you die. Use the wrong item in the wrong place, you die. If you let your torch go out, you die. So on and so on. Even the map layout becomes unforgiving near the end game, running around twenty or so screens of caves that look exactly the same searching for small items. I’ll be honest, it got to the point where I had to throw away my pride and use a walkthrough to complete the game for this review. Shadowgate isn’t the “fun” type of difficult. It’s the “punch your monitor and give up forever” type.

The most damning thing for this game is the finale. I won’t mention any spoilers (although honestly, there isn’t much to spoil), but the game is wrapped up in five minutes, and you’re treated to an ad for a remake of the next game in the series, Shadowgate Returns. That’s it. Beat your face against the wall for days, and your reward is an advertisement.


Darkly Crafted

On the flip side of things, the graphical design is gorgeous. Every screen is finely detailed and you can feel the sense of dread coming from it. Items you can interact with in the environment are easily noticeable, but not incredibly obvious, which suits this kind of game well. Character design for the very few characters you come across is relatively good, although, to me, it seems like some of the characters animated a bit unnaturally. Then again, I never ran across a human character, so perhaps these odd animations for the creatures you do come by are supposed to be unusual and off-putting.

Shadowgate also has a few still-frame cutscenes during the rare story sequences. The art during these portions is just as excellent, and fits the aesthetic of the game well. Zojoi definitely put in quite a bit of time upgrading this game for the newer generation. In a genre in which art very much matters (since you spend most of the time clicking on scenery, after all), Shadowgate hits the mark and flies above.


Wails of the Damned

Dragging the game down again, Shadowgate‘s soundtrack is easily forgettable. In fact, I’ve already forgotten about it. I can’t recall a single track from the game. There’s really nothing else I can say here.

Zojoi did add voice acting to the game, and this part is memorable. There are very few voiced characters, but the acting for them is great for this game’s atmosphere. It can get overdramatic at points, but it fits the game well.


All Roads Lead to Death

Overall, this game is a test in masochism. There’s no story to get in the way of pure gameplay, but said gameplay can easily drive you to throwing your computer through the nearest window. There are surely some gamers who will enjoy the challenge Shadowgate offers, but for the vast majority, there’s really not much enjoyment to be had. The art style and graphics are the game’s saving grace. While you’re busy destroying your brain to figure out the game’s logic, you will at least have a beautiful environment to look at.

Unfortunately, graphics alone do not make a game great. This score is through the focus of the general gaming public, rather than just the challenge seekers who I’m sure will come to love this game. Unlike our Akiba’s Trip review, I stand by the description of the score for Shadowgate. The game is mediocre at best.

~ Final Score: 5/10 ~

Review copy provided by Zojoi for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.