Review: Shadowgate is a treat for old-school fans
Platforms: PC, Mac
The classic point-and-click adventure genre has seen a major resurgence in recent years. A staple of the '80s and early '90s, these text-driven games saw a huge decline once platformers, shooters, and action-adventure titles rose to prominence. You can essentially thank Telltale Games for bringing the classic adventure formula back with great series including Sam & Max, Monkey Island, and The Walking Dead. Developer Zojoi, however, wanted to go even more old school, bringing back one of the progenitors of point-and-click, choice-driven, text-based adventuring: Shadowgate. The end result is pretty impressive, even if it isn't always inviting.
Reveling in Constant, Brutal Death
If you played the original Shadowgate on the Apple Macintosh or the subsequent NES port, you know just how tough that game was. For those who never dabbled with the MacVenture series, then you should definitely be aware that these games don't mess around when it comes to constantly challenging you. The level of difficulty is such that you could be put off if you're not familiar with exactly how this type of experience plays out. If you decide to jump into this dark (yet satirical) world, you should learn to celebrate your failures and deaths.
You will fail and die a whole lot in Shadowgate. Trial-and-error is a huge part of the Shadowgate experience, for better and for worse. You may grow frustrated when you repeatedly try to solve a puzzle in different ways, only to end up getting burnt to a crisp by a fire-breathing dragon or drowned by a water-dwelling beast. Again, it's about celebrating the many times you meet your demise, and then feeling truly satisfied when you finally figure out the solution to a puzzle.
Thankfully, Shadowgate handles death quite creatively. While you're certainly bound to come across the same types of death scenarios many times during your journey through the titular Castle Shadowgate, there are plenty of sequences that feel fresh and are fun to encounter. There's something strangely rewarding about dying a certain way one moment and then dying in a completely different manner all within the span of five minutes.
Exploring Castle Shadowgate
Despite the puzzles being such a major part of Shadowgate, it should be noted that the real star here is the castle itself. It's exciting wandering about the many rooms, discovering new and exciting artifacts, learning about the ancient setting's lore, and reading scrolls with information about important characters. Quite frankly, if Zojoi were to have simply created a first-person castle exploration sim, it might have worked out. That said, the puzzles definitely add a nice wrinkle to all of the exploration.
There are seemingly countless rooms for you to enter. Most rooms have their own set of puzzles, while others simply offer a glimpse into the castle's back story. You'll come across creepy tombs, fascinating dungeons, flooded areas, and even rooms with friendly spirits. Shadowgate is constantly treating you to different scenarios, and it's never shy about surprising you — either with a cool new item, some history, or a deadly sequence.
A Modern Day MacVenture
The essence of Shadowgate is beyond old school. This game plays like something you would've seen in the late '80s on a Macintosh computer, right down to the clunky user interface. That classic design is not really a bad thing (except for the pesky UI), but it's obvious that this is a very specific type of game for a very specific type of player. If you don't dig retro first-person point-and-click adventure games, chances are you won't find much to love about this game. Even if you do like some of the more modern adventure titles that have made the rounds in recent years, you're not guaranteed to walk away from Shadowgate feeling overwhelmed with joy.
Of course, folks who dug the original, and those who just have a penchant for retro-styled experiences will undoubtedly discover a wonderfully crafted, absolutely mesmerizing castle filled to the brim with amazing things to discover, see, and do.
As an added bonus, Zojoi included some contemporary additions to Shadowgate. For starters, the hand-drawn look of the art is unlike anything you would've witnessed during the heyday of games like the original Shadowgate. Fret not, though, because if you'd rather play with retro graphics and sound, you can. There are also multiple difficulty settings, so you don't necessarily have to play Shadowgate at its most grueling. If you do, you'll be treated to every puzzle and room in the game. But for those who maybe don't want to headbutt their computers out of sheer frustration, there are toned-down options.
Here are the criteria I consider most important for judging Shadowgate:
Shadowgate is a lot of fun if you go into it knowing exactly what to expect. While it's still an adventure game, it's not quite like the more recent titles brought to us by Telltale. Developer Zojoi wanted to go even more old school, presenting a first-person experience that relies heavily on experimentation and a sometimes-confusing user interface.
Setting and Lore: 8/10
Even more interesting and engaging than the actual gameplay, the setting of Shadowgate is equal parts intriguing and impressive. It's a sheer joy traveling through the crumbling walls of the ancient castle looking for clues and learning about the structure's history.
Retro Charm: 7/10
Zojoi may have gone a bit too old school here, but if you want something that reminds you of those days when you would plant yourself in front of your old Apple computer until the wee hours of the night, this game will remind you of those long-forgotten times.
Some players will appreciate the fact that this game is remorseless a lot of the time. Meanwhile others — even fans of this sort of punishing experience — may feel that the game is a bit too daunting at times.
Overall score: 7.3
Shadowgate is the very definition of niche. Only a specific crowd will want to play this game. And while it may pique the interest of others, not everyone who plays it out of pure curiosity will enjoy it. That said, you have to admire Zojoi for bringing back such a legendary series, and for doing quite a good job of it, too.
GameCrate reviews represent the opinions of the GameCrate writer who wrote them, and not necessarily those of Newegg. In most cases, GameCrate reviews are performed using products or samples provided by the manufacturer/producer of the product.