One of my favorite genres has been the adventure game. Instead of relying
entirely upon reflxes and skill, these games challenged your brain, made
you think, and solve puzzles. It was also really cool to step into the
shoes of an adventurer with a task. The first real adventure game (correct
me if I'm wrong) to appear on the NES was Shadowgate, translated by Kecmo-Seika
from the IBM PC and Macintosh. And I'll be damned if it isn't fun!
You start off the game whisked in front of a creepy looking castle. You
have been chosen by a wizard to save the world. This evil wizard is
planning to raise a gigantic monster (known as the Behemoth) and
somehow use it to take over the world. That simply will not do, so you
must trek through Castle Shadowgate, find him, and defeat him. As you
progress through the game, you learn that by combining three special items,
you can prevent the resurrection of the Behemoth.
Okay, that pretty much sums up the plot. There is absolutely no character
interaction, no advancing story, or nothing of the such. It's a barebone
task to beat the bad guys. The game is controlled by a little skeleton
pointy finger. You choose from a variety of commands at the bottom of the
screen to walk, take, use, cast spells, and a variety of other commands.
There is a little window in the lower left corner that displays exits (in
case you have trouble finding them in the main game window) and the inventory
is displayed on the righthand side. That leaves the actual graphics to be
confined to about a quarter of the screen. It may seem shrunken at first,
but you'll get used to it.
One of the nastiest things that Shadowgate is known for is the amount of times
that you'll die. You'll be seeing that stupid grinning Grim Reaper a whole
lot in this game. Something as innocent as picking up a book to walking
into a certain rooms will kill you instantly, without warning. Some
people may complain, but the game only sends you back one room, so it's
not like you have to reload the game or even restart! In fact, if you
think about it, it would make sense for a castle to be booby-trapped like
this, so I think this aspect adds more to the feeling of being there (instead
of some PC adventure games, where dying is absolutely impossible.) Plus,
some of the deaths can be rather funny (try jumping out any window!) Still,
many of the death messages are abbriviated compared to the PC version.
Another interesting twist is torch management. Since the Castle Shadowgate
does not have its own natural course of light, you must provide your own.
You only start off with a few though, so it's up to you to find some more
lying around the castle. Every once in awhile, the music changes to alert
you that your current torch is burning low. If you don't light another
torch quickly...the lights will go out, you'll fall down, and die. Simple
as that. But, as mentioned above, you'll come back to life just a screen
back with a fully lit torch...so if you run out, you'll just have to
annoyed about dying every once and awhile.
Also, many of the game's puzzles actually make sense. For instance, there's
an item suspended inside of an acid fountain. To reach in, simply put
on the Gauntlet and take the item. To get the boatsman to take you across
the river, simply give him a coin. Wanna know how to beat the Hellhound?
Through holy water at it. There's even one neat part of the
game where you must solve a Sphinx's riddle, bringing him certain items.
Although the puzzles aren't always easy, they aren't outlandish difficult,
which brings down the frustration factor. However, they did leave one
room out of the NES version that was in the PC version (a room full of goblins.)
Even though the graphics are small, they look very nice, and only grainy in
a few areas. The music, however, is wonderful. Each of them sound very
medieval and add tremendously to the atmosphere. There are a nice assortment
of tunes, and while they're rather short, you probably won't get tired of
listening to them. Getting around the game is pretty easy, especially with
the "Go To" map, helping you find locations. However, flipping through
scads of inventory items can be annoying.
Even though it's a pretty straightforward adventure game, Shadowgate wins
for over for one simple reason: atmosphere. It really creates the
effect of being inside a spooky palace (a major feat for a 8-bit NES game
with a 16-color palette!) The only complain I can muster is the same
for most games of this type; once you beat the game, there's no point to
replay it. That, and it isn't exactly the longest game in existence either.
Still, it's worth hunting down to play through and enjoy.