Nostalgia is a powerful motivator for game development nowadays. Now that we’ve reached a point where videogames are old enough to allow the existence of developers who have grown up playing them, old classics reappearing under new coats of paint have become commonplace. The newest case is Shadowgate, an old Nintendo Entertainment System tough-as-nails fantasy adventure game. This new release which started as a successful Kickstarter project and is now available on Steam.
Developed by Zojoi, a team comprised of folks who actually worked on the original Shadowgate, this remake is probably one of the most lovingly put together re-releases you’re likely to see, sporting not only a completely new audio and visual presentation, but new puzzles as well as tons of lore to dive into if you so wish.
As a ragged soldier pushed into an uncalled adventure by a mysterious voice and a bizarre talking skull companion, it’s your mission to stop an evil and shadowy figure from obtaining a source of power that could destroy the world. But first, you have to survive the first screen, if you can even see it – Shadowgate isn’t a game that’s likely to hold your hand, if you don’t wish it. In fact, this is an adventure game worth immersing yourself without any sort of outside help.
That’s mostly because of its delivery of failure states. Most of the dangers you’re likely to run across, and most likely over, to your demise, are plainly shown, but rarely indicated, every time you step into a new room. The original’s slow, methodical pacing is ever present in this remake, down to the forced and positively archaic ‘verb’ control system. Much like its adventure gaming counterparts of the time, Shadowgate made use of commands like ‘eat’ and ‘use’ in order to guide you from one static screen to the next. Although little touches like the ability to bind items to numeric keys are present, you’re still forced to click a bunch of times to do a single action most of the time. At times, this drags the pacing down considerably, while at others, it gives you time to figure out potentially lethal mistakes.
You’re still aught to carry a torch around the many caves and tunnels through the paths to the titular castle of Shadowgate. At the start, it’s a tool to keep you out of the dark and of harm’s way and requires replacing every so often, but after a certain point in the game, you’re likely to have more than enough of them to put worries of dark deaths aside and focus on whatever spots you’re likely to get stuck next. And if you do get stuck and give up taking it on by yourself, your talkative companion is likely to offer you tips, if you so wish.
Mistakes cost dearly in Shadowgate, to the point of sending you back to the main menu, to an earlier saved game, if you even bothered to save, that is. As mentioned before, traps are laid out everywhere, and is what divides and unites the grievances and the reasons why some will hate, but fans will still love this game nearly 30 years later. Granted, this turns Shadowgate into a trial and error experience that only really works the first time through.
Still, there are reasons to come back to the game after your first run, which should take you around five hours, depending on which difficulty you start out at. Each of these settings brings out more obstacles into your game, and if you’re the sort of player that enjoys paying for your errors dearly, there’s even an “ironman” setting that disables saved games altogether. While I personally tend to steer clear from such playing customs there days, a younger me would’ve loved to try that mode out, and there’s bound to be a crazy fan out there who still has Shadowgate memorized by heart. They’re likely to draw the most enjoyment out of this remake, thanks to the new tricks and sets added in to the original’s script.
For newcomers, it’s an ever better experience, mostly because they can get to see the improvements and compare them to the underlying structure of the original game, that’s still there via menu options that can be tweaked back to as close to the old version’s look and feel as it’s possible – unfortunately, the original’s version’s graphics don’t carry back, but the “de-make” look given to the new visuals does an excellent job of emulating the feel of an old adventure game, down to transition screens and sound effects from that era’s games.
It also helps the remake looks great, thanks to panels upon panels of colorful, painterly hand drawn art and finely, albeit limited animated interactions. Every screen in this remake looks unique and full of atmosphere, which helps set in the vibe that the original also had back in the day, of constant danger. The score tries to be as epic as the fantasy vibe of Shadowgate demands, along with the few lines of dialog that were recorded for cutscenes.
For as much praise as modern releases might get, there’s an undeniable allure that comes from older games that’s lost these days, for as much as the rose colored glasses nostalgia sticks on our faces. As it stands though, Shadowgate is yet another fantastic re-imagining in a year that’s been a treasure trove for nostalgic fans on the lookout for new twists to their favorite games and a chance for new fans to discover an old classic.