Kill me once, then kill me twice, then kill me once again.
The graphics and music/sound in Shadowgate are of very high quality, given the limitations of the NES.
Unlike Microsoft Windows Help, the built-in hint system here is actually helpful (but only sometimes).
As for the substance of the game, I have to admit that some of the writing is pretty clever, and even funny at times. This is a non-action, slow-paced game, which is quite unusual for an old console title. My guess is that mostly oldschool PC gamers will like Shadowgate, but oldschool console gamers looking for something different than the typical arcade fare may also enjoy it.
Shadowgate is remarkable for its sheer existentialism. Traditional adventure games either try to amuse the player, or frighten him with death; Shadowgate actually tries to *amuse* the player with death! If your sense of humor tends strongly to the dark and ironic side, then some of the text in this game will probably strike you as downright hilarious.
This is one of the strengths of the game, but it’s also a weakness. You have to die CONSTANTLY, even if you are playing pretty smart, which can be extremely frustrating. If those witty little post-mortem messages don’t do it for you, then you are going to get tired of this game really fast.
In fact, “frustration” would be this game’s middle name, if it only had one. Some of the clues given by the game are rather unhelpful, and occasionally they can even be downright misleading. Puzzle solutions are generally only logical when viewed after-the-fact. You see, there is one and only one solution to every problem, so it’s all about getting into the heads of the designers, and not about logical thinking. I mainly got through Shadowgate through sheer trial-and-error, which has a way of sucking all the fun out of a game.
If there was more substance to this game, then the “puzzle” aspect wouldn’t be that big of a problem. But there is practically no story here whatsoever! It’s really just a bunch of puzzles loosely tied together in a sequence. To top things off, the game isn’t even user-friendly. Torch management is a royal pain, especially since you have no idea how many there are in total in the castle. The menu system feels very clunky, too. It’s enough to make you welcome death with a smile. I guess that’s appropriate, since that seems to be the underlying message of the game, anyway…
The Bottom Line
If you want a challenging puzzle-adventure for your NES, this is a good place to start. Watch what you wish for, though. Shadowgate may give you more old-fashioned, point-and-click frustration than you bargained for.
“As you go down the trap door, you realize you took a big step. The fall is quite fatal."