Box Shot
Platform: NES
Publisher: Kemco-Seika
Designer: ICOM
Genre: Graphic Adventure
Players: 1
Published Date 1989
Reviewed by: Kurt Kalata

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 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.

Reviewed By: Tim Connolly
You've probably heard of this one before. This is the reason why so many teenagers and Gen-Xers nowadays have bald heads. It's not because they shaved them, it's because they tore their hair out from its roots while playing this.

One thing you'll notice right off the bat is that the viewspace is actually about 1/4 of the screen. The rest of the area is taken up with your commands and inventory. It sounds like you're going to be really cramped, but actually the programmers did a good job of putting the limited area to good use. I was very impressed when I saw what the Sphinx looked like.

The music is pretty good. A few of the themes really add to the atmosphere (most notably the first theme outside the castle), but none of them are very hummable. Also, one thing that can irk you about the music is that most of the themes are very short, only about 15-20 seconds long. With the large about of scavenging you'll be doing, short musical pieces can begin to drive you a bit crazy.

The only real technical problem I can see is the Play Control. For one thing, the cursor moves quite slowly. Although time is not really a factor, it can be a bit annoying when you're trying to get that finger to light a desparately needed torch. Also, two commands listed in the window, "Hit" and "Leave," have no use whatsoever in the game. Nothing can be successfully manipulated by hitting it, and the game doesn't allow you to drop anything anywhere, which can lead to a lot of frustration.

Most RPGs include a very complex storyline, that twists and turns as the game progresses. Shadowgate doesn't. There's a reason for it, though: The entire game takes place in one castle. Besides, the programmers compensated for that by adding a lot of puzzles and obstacles along your way.

Now comes the most talked about facet of the game: its challenge. If you could beat this game on your own, Mensa should welcome you with open arms. Inane items like a broom or a rock are pivotal to your progress. Meaningless tasks like picking up a book or trying to enter a room could kill you. Luckily, you don't restart too far back (you wind up in the previous room, as if you hadn't done anything there yet), but it can be a bit frustrating when you died simply because you smashed the wrong mirror.

The enjoyability of this game is two-sided. On one hand, you really feel like you're in the game and exploring the castle, and it can be a bit fun to see just how many ways you can die, but once you've beaten this game, there's virtually no reason to play it again. All the puzzles have been solved, so there's really no surprise in what you need to do.

Overall, Shadowgate has some pretty good features in it. Unfortunately, it also has some bad features in it, and the two cancel out, leaving us with a game that's only average on an objective scale.

Read more NES reviews at Logaroo's NES site. Republished with permission.