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Shadowgate review: This castle still wants to kill you, 25 years later

Hayden Dingman | Aug. 22, 2014
"You have chosen poorly, young Jair," says the screen, flashing an image of grinning Death. I hate him. I hate his bony little skeleton face so much. I've seen it at least ten times in the last hour and a half, each time listening to his snide comment about my demise.

"You have chosen poorly, young Jair," says the screen, flashing an image of grinning Death. I hate him. I hate his bony little skeleton face so much. I've seen it at least ten times in the last hour and a half, each time listening to his snide comment about my demise.

I've been burned to a crisp by a dragon. I've been shot by an arrow from the dark. I've had a rickety wooden bridge burned from under me. Even nonlethal occurrences might as well be — I've heard the screams of a banshee and come under a curse, I've seen an enormous spider frozen to the ceiling, I've gazed upon the face of a demon.

And ever Death mocks me. "Tis a sad thing that your adventures have ended here," he says, laughing.

But they haven't ended. Not really. I load my latest quicksave again and try something new. Maybe this time I won't die. Maybe I'll solve another piece of the massive puzzle that is Castle Shadowgate.

Unlikely, though.

You died

Shadowgate is impossibly hard, and I mean that as a compliment (I think).

For the uninitiated, Shadowgate is a remake of — you guessed it — Shadowgate, a 1987 point-and-click adventure designed for the Apple Macintosh and ported to basically every extant platform at the time: the Amiga, Apple II, Atari ST, DOS, and even the NES. You're an adventurer named Jair, and you've been called by the wizard Lakmir to free Castle Shadowgate, which has fallen to an unspeakable evil named Talimar the Black. It's a fantasy-style dungeon crawler of an adventure game, with you exploring old tombs and wielding swords and the like.

And it's hard, in the way that only late-80s/early-90s adventure games can be hard. Shadowgate doesn't even try to hide it, wrapping itself in delightfully obtuse holdovers from the olden days of adventure games.

Contextual commands? Get out of here with your newfangled ways — Shadowgate uses the antiquated "Look," "Go," "Eat," "Use," et cetera system that fell out of favor years ago. Using an item is entirely different from Looking at an item is entirely different from Eating said item, and Shadowgate expects you to know when to use each command appropriately — or it kills you.

I'm not joking. One of the most famous encounters in Shadowgate brings you face-to-face with a dragon. You have one turn — one — to notice the shield lying on the ground and Use The Shield On Yourself or else the dragon breathes fire and you die. That's it.

Shadowgate has tuned the difficulty a bit by adding easier tiers, but even these just allow you to futz your way through some of those puzzles for a few more turns. The middle difficulty tier, for instance? You have two turns to equip the shield instead of one before the dragon roasts and (presumably) eats you.

 

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