Shadowgate (2014)


Continuing the trend of reboot games being made (and of me reviewing them), Shadowgate has been remade for the modern era. Sort of. Originating in 1987’s point-and-click adventure, the original Shadowgate is a classic if there ever was one. Back in those days when the point-and-click adventure was at its height, many considered it to be one of the masterworks of the genre. It allowed multiple ways to navigate the same issues, a huge amount of options and a wide world to navigate, and the high tech “action button” interface—a system where you had to click on the button corresponding to what action you wanted to take, then click on the object you wanted to perform the action on—was a miracle of the Macintosh. It was a different time, where accessibility wasn’t as key an issue as now, and the developer’s vision went through a much shorter gauntlet of profit analysis.

2014 has seen Shadowgate return with modern graphics, expanded setting, polished storyline, and loads more puzzles. Its followers, many of them starting their reviews with wistful sighs, speak about how it marries the impeccable design of the old with the improved techniques of the new, calling it the definitive Shadowgate. Its detractors call it outdated, inefficient, annoying, and unspeakably difficult.

Shadowgate starts the player off as an ordinary human soldier, armed only with a cloak and a dagger and absolutely no experience in matters of monsters and magic, and places them at the front of a living, malevolent castle filled with monsters and ruled by an unstoppable Warlock who has killed every last rival in his way. Then, the player is tasked with infiltrating and conquering the whole thing. Along the way, you’ll die approximately 62 sextillion times, depending on how quickly you solve the banshee’s curse. Every death brings up a cheeky and gruesome text description of your demise, the grinning face of death and his scythe, and a disappointed admonishment from your ally and mentor. That death screen might as well be the cover.

Every step and every room in Shadowgate is a puzzle, and a difficult one. Just about every penalty for failing it is either humiliation, or death. The player can, luckily, save at any time, as the game is often an exercise in trial and error. The saving grace of the game’s enormous difficulty is that the puzzles make sense, and rarely feel like the arbitrary fumbling that happens at the low point of many point-and-click adventure games. Returning with the difficulty are the Macintosh-era action buttons, a few of which can be bound to keys a few times, but never in their whole. The game could go a lot smoother with the ability to bind them all, and the developers know it. Out of nostalgia and respect, however, the game stays classically inefficient, a nuisance until you get used to it after the first two or three hours, which isn’t too long, considering it took me a week to beat this monstrous game.

Both the 2014 remake and its ancestor are challenging, clever, and novel in their nostalgia, but both are difficult, filled with trial and error, and long. Only the dedicated should pick this game up; everyone else ought to avoid it.

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