Once upon a time, adventure games were harder. Some might say deeper. Before Tim Schafer and Telltale made “no game-over” gameplay the norm, you could easily ruin five hours of progress by losing a key item. The original Shadowgate was one such game. Utilizing a whole array of action buttons and pixel perfect button presses, the 1987 release challenged both the player’s wits and patience.
Now, nearly 30 years later, Zojoi has released a full remake of the original. It is just as punishing as the original, and even includes a much lengthier campaign with more rooms and reworked puzzles. The result is a fascinating mash-up of new and old that will satisfy retro fans, but may frustrate newer players.
Shadowgate (PC [Reviewed], Mac)
Publisher: Reverb Triple XP
Release Date: August 21st 2014
There’s no use in beating around the bush: I loved the hell out of this new vision for the series. I’m a big fan of old-school Shadowgate–it was practically ingrained in my upbringing–so I know how the series should work, and this game fits the bill. It’s hard, it’s funny, and it’s unsettling all these years later.
Some concessions have been made to ease up the brutal difficulty. You now have a talking skull friend named Yorick who can give you tips in certain areas of the game. While some might see this as “appealing to casuals,” it was actually a pretty critical tool that I utilized all the time. He never directly gives you the solution, even at the easiest difficulty level, and it’s totally optional. The only things he seemed to chime in without me directly asking was to tell me when my torch is about to burn out. Trust me though, you’ll be glad for that.
Three difficulty settings are available: Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master. The harder you go, the more numerous and difficult the puzzles get. Master mode is the closest to the original with the most obscure puzzle solutions, but Apprentice is no slouch. I played through all three difficulties in order, and even got stumped a few times on the easiest setting.
Honestly, part of that is because some of the puzzles are just too much. There are dozens of collectible items that have absolutely no use, extra rooms and passages that don’t add to the main quest. One puzzle in the library is already infamous for requiring aimless trial-and-error. Yorick can help to keep you on track a bit, but therein lies the trade-off of expanding a 2 hour pixel hunter into a game that can take about 7 hours or more for a first playthrough.
Shadowgate succeeds most, however, when it is transforming the original in some way. Rooms like the sewer have been changed so you can’t rely on the same solutions from the original. Sorry, “EPOR” fans. Then there’s the transforming wolf woman who has been retooled as a major expository character in this version.
The new visual style works incredibly well for the series, introducing more of a Hebrew and Arabic theme to the typically Greek and Gothic style. The music is spot-on for the atmosphere and fits each scenario appropriately. Of course, if you’re really a purist then you can turn on retro mode, which uses the music from the NES release with faux “8-bit” text and transitions. Personally, I prefer the game as it is, but the retro features are a nice touch.
If you’re worried about the length, then I suggest you do what I did and play through each difficulty mode in order. Puzzles have different solutions on each level, and some areas are sealed off on easier difficulties. It can be a chore to redo some areas, but believe me when I say you’ll want to know how to cure the banshee curse before you get to harder difficulties.
Even if you don’t typically agree with my reviews, I hope that you’ll take this one to heart and purchase Shadowgate. This remake is not only a great update of a classic game, but also a fantastic standalone entry to the series. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to throw all my money at Zojoi so they can give the same treatment to Beyond Shadowgate.