I had to stop playing Shadowgate after about the first ten minutes because my face was hurting. No, I didn’t get blasted by a real fireball coming from my monitor or anything like that. It’s because I was grinning so much that I think I was exercising more muscles than I’ve used in a while. Anyway, it was obvious from that short stretch of time and later on after about another hour of play that developer Zojoi Games has nailed the game they created back in 1987 as a perfect reboot on a few fronts.
The game manages to retain the same gameplay as the original while adding plenty of new content in an absolutely beautiful (yet suitably grim where required) art style as well as a grand, redone score by Rich Douglas that’s as stirring as the visuals…
Purists who want to adventure in old school aural bliss can choose to listen to the original NES tunes by Hiroyuki Masuno and even experience the game with the same scene transition effects as that well-aged cartridge. I played the demo switching between both, but eventually settling on the Douglas score and new transitions for my first trip through just to hear as much of his work as possible before the final version of the game is complete.
If you’ve played the original game to death and back, you may think you know how this new one will spool out, but you’d be dead wrong (and a few times at that). New areas, puzzles and “i wonder if that will kill me” areas are here and waiting for you to poke around at the wrong spot, and yes, the game loves to draw you in and let you have it if you do something you shouldn’t have. Granted, Shadowgate has always been an adventure about exploration of environments as well as choices, so even if you do die, you’ll be back for more (and hopefully, you’ll make good use of that save anywhere function).
With the hint system off (a slightly jokey skull you find at the beginning of the game named Yorick) there’s a palpable sense of dread as you make your way through the ruined castle taking in the sights and trying to figure out which direction to take, sometimes under a bit of environmental or other stress. I’m carefully not giving away anything here about the puzzles and traps and stuff that killed me, but I will say that the game can be tailored to your tastes with hints on or off, a disappearing interface and different resolution options, although the game should run fine on nearly anything that meets the basic system requirements.
Actually, my character only expired twice in my current session, once by poking through the wrong doorway (Oops! I shoulda went left… er… or was that right? Um, straight ahead?) and the second time was a bit more embarrassing, so I’ll probably save that for my full review. Anyway, if you backed this already or pre-ordered, you know your copy will drop digitally on August 21, 2014. Anyone else curious about Shadowgate should just BUY the game and see what’s what. There’s a nice mix of fantasy, suspense and a bit of light horror elements here that make it quite entertaining and a definite sign that great adventure games are indeed a force to be reckoned with. I hope Zojoi has some console plans for their baby, as it’s high time Shadowgate popped up on a certain system or three (especially anything Nintendo has on the market, hint, hint).
Back around launch day with a full review – stay tuned…