Shadowgate is a fantastic point and click adventure through castle Shadowgate. Its one of the few rare games that steps away from the standard games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. You play a nameless, faceless protagonist tasked with storming Shadowgate castle to destroy an evil mage at the end. It is set up like a traditional point and click computer game, you get a mouse cursor that you control with the directional pad on the controller. The main window shows each room that you are in. At the bottom of the screen, there are commands like move, use, attack, drop, look, take, and several others. To move between different areas, you will have to use the move command and point to either your map or a doorway on the screen. On the right side is your inventory and you’ll have a huge inventory by the end of the game.
Upon entering a room for the first time, you’re greeted with flavor text that gives each place a history. Each room contains several interesting things. Exits, items to take, hidden secrets, traps and immediate dangers. There are plenty of stupid traps, such as taking an item at the wrong time that will cause an immediate death. Shadowgate is out to kill you. So you need to make sure to save often. Sometimes the game’s grim reaper will send you back to where you were, which is very generous of the game, because loading can be cumbersome.
Items can even cause your demise too. Drinking the wrong potion might kill you and if you drink a potion that makes you hover, then fall into a pit, that’s your problem. You don’t have any real control over your character, if you do this, that will happen. There is no skill, you just have to experiment or know it.
Another thing you’ll need are torches. You have two active torches and one of which needs to be lit, because if they’re both dark, you’ll automatically trip, stumble and die. There are plenty of torches scattered around for you to take, but lighting them feels like a chore. You’ll need to use a torch in your inventory on one of your active torches. There are also traps that will extinguish your torch and the game is generous letting you have two lit at once. Wind gusts will also extinguish the torches as well. I’m not sure how one can carry two torches and a giant inventory, but whatever. Games are games. The limited amount of torches ultimately gives you a time limit to complete the game.
Some rooms have creatures and monsters that you’ll need to either take out or outsmart. You’ll find weapons like swords and slings, but there are also coins that you can use to pay tolls to pass by trolls. A lot of effort was put into the visuals. These creatures aren’t small moving sprites, but big images that are part of the backgrounds.
Now that its decades after Shadowgate’s release, I feel like the interface could have been minimized. There doesn’t need to be so many commands. I shouldn’t have to click move, then click a doorway. I should only need to push the doorway. Maybe even get asked if I’d like to move through that doorway. It all feels so cumbersome and I say that having gone through the game dozens of times as a child. I used to spend every weekend speed running through the game, getting further and further with each play through.
It is really through the use of trial and error that gets you through the game. You know what you have and you either need to use it, drop it, attack with it and so on. Sometimes the answer might not be obvious. Lucky for us back in the day, Nintendo Power magazine always had plenty of hints from issue to issue. Its a great game that still stands as classic point and click adventure, even if it is really dated.