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There is a place nestled in the walls of Gatekeeper Mountain, a fortress riddled with arcane mysteries and myths. It is surrounded by the whispers of death and feeds on the fear of men. This place is the great Castle Shadowgate of the planet Tyragon. If you ever dare enter through its doors, be ready to be engulfed within a plethora of mind-bending puzzles that will leave you hopeless and in certain unforgiving times, in mocking pitch black darkness.
The original Shadowgate was released on Macintosh in 1987 (and later on the Nintendo Entertainment System) as part of the MacVenture series of point-and-click adventure games. It was developed by David March and Karl Roelofs who brought us other daunting puzzle solving games such as Deja Vú and Uninvited. Now, 27 years later, the same developers have totally reimagined it with modern graphics, added rooms and enhanced puzzles.
The rebirth of this old-school adventure was thanks to Kickstarter that inspired the developing duo to bring their beloved creations back to life. In October 2012 they set-up the Kickstarter, with their newly formed company (Zojoi), and by November 2012 they had reached their crowd-funding mark of US$120 000.
Shadowgate is a truly malevolent piece of art. It is inconsiderate, bitter and utterly brilliant. You play as a hero who is the last member of a royal bloodline of Kings. Your quest is to stop the Dark Warlock, Talimir, from summoning the wicked demon Behemoth. But this will not be easy, and I mean it. To be brutally honest, this is one of the most difficult and unnerving experiences of your life.
It takes a while to get the hang of the game. There is simply so much going on and so much you need to account for. You play the game by making use of a string of commands: “Look, Take, Open, Close, Go, Use, Hit, Eat, Speak”. All of these actions need to be linked to the right object to achieve the right outcome.
To simply pass through a door already takes you four clicks. Click on open and then the door to open it. Then click Go, and then the door and you have finally completed an action that is usually considered quite mundane in reality. Oh, and for some doors you will need a key. That is an extra five clicks. It is to be expected that you will have your share of clicking in a point-and-click adventure game but Shadowgate takes this to a whole new level.
You will need to pick up millions of things that go straight to your inventory. So at certain times you will need to click on the object in your inventory, then on an action, close the inventory window and then on the object. Each room is filled with millions of things to fiddle with and pick up, many of which will lead to your immediate death and ultimately back to the start of the game. The save game option is, without a doubt, your greatest asset in this game.
Throughout the game many of the objects you pick up can be equipped to your character by clicking on the item in your inventory and on your character, the avatar in the top right-hand corner of the screen. You will see the item, such as a helmet or shield, being added to the portrait.
One thing to really boast about is the game’s artwork and narrative. As an avid lover of the fantasy genre, I must say that Shadowgate was intriguing and truly impressed me. You will be treated to stunning underground and dungeon scenes, created by master artists, Chris Cold and Damian Audino. I found the storyline to be stimulating and absorbing, touching many themes that have always drawn me to the world of fantasy. The narrator’s “medieval wise-man” voice seemed a bit forced and acted though, but was a minor pitfall in an otherwise solid plot.
Verdict: Shadowgate is not a game for everyone. It is a complicated and overwhelmingly difficult mess. In a gaming world that is filled with cheap thrills, simple controls and instant satisfaction, not many will take the time to explore this game. That being said, Shadowgate is an absorbing and in-depth gaming experience that will leave you in awe if you give it the chance. It is a finely executed game and it doesn’t rely on nostalgia for success. Once you get the hang of its complex control system you will pour countless hours into it, until the finish, providing you with a bliss like no other game.