“The last thing that you remember is standing before the wizard Lakmir as he gestured wildly and chanted in an archaic tongue. Now you find yourself staring at an entryway which lies at the edge of a forest”
These are the first words of Zojoi’s classic point-and-click puzzle adventure game come back to life. Shadowgate was originally available on the Apple Macintosh and the Nintendo Entertainment System, all the way back in 1987. I did play the Nintendo version, and as a “tween” when it came out, I loved the hell out of it. It had a snarky sardonic adult-ish sense of humor and many, many… MANY ways to die if you did the wrong thing. And there were so many ways to do the wrong thing. I tend to be a very methodical dungeon explorer in my video gaming and Shadowgate exploited that fact, mercilessly. Twelve years after the original was released there was a Nintendo 64 sequel that was, in my opinion, one of the few good games released on that console. (What can I say, platformers are not my bread and butter.) Another sequel had been planned apparently, but the arrival of the Gamecube put a stop to that.
Next on the journey of bringing this game to the present, Zoijoi launched a kickstarter to update the classic. The creators of the original were behind the effort to bring the point-and-click game into the new millennium, building the game from the ground up with new art and puzzles. The kickstarter succeeded within a month, the game released on PC and Mac not long after.
The remake is freshly available on Xbox, Playstation and the Switch. I played through the game, thanks to a code provided by Abstraction and Zoijoi. I will tell you, it holds up pretty well. It still has the bones and soul of a point-and-click adventure game. You play as Jair, a soldier who finds himself drug into a dramatic conflict between good and evil. You progress through the castle one room at a time and solve puzzles as you go. Each room has been rendered in exquisite detail and style, with some obvious clues and some not so obvious clues. Helping you if you get stuck, you are given a skull sidekick named Yorick (Alas, I knew him Horatio.)
As you progress you pick up items and weapons, books and scroll, and all sorts of sundries. Some useful, some not. (Or I have yet to discover a use for them, which is just as likely.) The game is not very long… when you figure out what to do. I was stuck for a day or two near the beginning because I had not hit something with a hammer yet. The game demands trial and error, even when that trial and error blows up in your face.
Bringing a point-and-click user interface to console can be tricky, but the developers handled it well. It took me awhile to adjust to it, but that was because modern games hold your hand in almost every way and Shadowgate refuses to coddle you. After all, you are out to save the world, and if you accidentally drop your torch in the lake and fall and break your neck soon after, who can you really blame?
If there is a drawback to this game, it is the difficulty. Although, it may be better stated that the difficulty is more of a feature, than a drawback. There are several levels of difficulty, each promising a different game and more involved and intricate puzzles, including an Ironman mode that will not allow you to save.
Things I loved about the game:
- The sound. From the music to the voice acting to the ambience, the audio brings you directly into the game.
- Using my brain. When I solved that puzzle that had held me back, I felt incredible.
- The artwork. Beautifully done.
- Replayability. This is a game I am going to come back to and play again. Running through the story on Normal difficulty, I unlocked just a few achievements.
- The setting. The castle is its own character.
Things I was “meh” about:
- Yorick. Sometimes he helped. Sometimes he repeated the same thing over and over again.
- The wheel and how long it took me to understand, but that is mostly on me.
- The story. It was fine but not really driving my interest.
Things I did not like:
- Getting stuck? I was frustrated being stuck as long as I was, having played many games like this, I am not ashamed to say that the ego took a bit of a hit.
This is not a modern 3D triple A game, it is a work of passion and creativity, the kind that drove video games out of arcades and into the home in the eighties. Just remember to breathe and use your skull.
Review Score 8/10
Actor, writer, director, and bald guy. Plus I play video games.