Why? Why did I buy this game? Oh, now I remember. It was on sale for twenty bucks. I wanted to see how Kemco handled the sequel to one of my favorite classic games. There weren't any other N64 RPGs available. I forgot to research it before I bought it. I was temporarily insane and couldn't see any reason why I shouldn't spend my money on something else. That creepy hobo in the store made me just want to buy what I had in my hands at the time and get out. For these and probably a few other reasons, I wound up buying and beating Shadowgate 64. Although it wasn't the most enjoyable experience, I suppose that it's for the best that I know how the Shadowgate legacy ended. Anyway, here's my review.
It's late. All around you, the other members of the unguarded caravan look around warily, searching the hills for signs of bandits. They have good reason to do so, considering that you, Del Cottonwood, are now traveling with them along the dreaded road that passes through the lands near castle Shadowgate. Although the good lord Jair once kept this path safe and used Shadowgate as a school of the arcane arts, it has become a festering hive of villainy and thievery as of late. You rest your eyes, weary of the long trip.
The attack comes suddenly, leaving the caravan hopelessly undefended. Flaming arrows, raging warhorses, and heavily armed thugs rush in, slaughtering all and salvaging the rest. For some reason, you are left alive and wind up being dragged into the night, bashed and bleeding.
You awake in a cell, devoid of even the most common items. In the neighboring cell you see another prisoner, probably captured by the same people who caught you, but that isn't important. You now have two thoughts on your mind, escape and survival, and all else is a secondary concern. Your destiny will lead your path through Shadowgate into far more than just those two things…
What happened? How could anyone change a game so greatly for the worse? The original Shadowgate let you run rampant through Shadowgate, using a list of commands to interact with the world and forcing you to be creative and combine items for the best effects. You would die quite often if you made the slightest mistake, but you didn't mind because of the satisfying quotes and the easy saving and loading included. The new and unimproved Shadowgate 64 gives you the same job of running around in this dread hole of death, but you now have only a handle-all-situations option to use and none of your items interact with each other! Some items are still worthless decoys, so I suppose that's good.
The massive number of deaths has been trimmed down heavily, giving you only a handful of descriptions of your passing on instead of the heap of fatal fun we had to play with in the original. The entire game is spent looking in corners for items, solving puzzles that require luck and loading more often than creativity, and searching through places you've already been to for items you missed (The rusty key is just plain evil). There are no enemies at all, no skill required, and no action whatsoever, making this undoubtedly the most boring game I have ever played. The end result of all this tampering is a game that can only be described as a first person Resident Evil without the joy of zombie-decapitation. Gameplay gets a 50%. For shame, Kemco!
As for the graphics, I have to admit that there was a lot of improvement over the original Shadowgate, but that's not saying much. Instead of movement through single screen rooms, you now traverse areas much like those of GoldenEye, only smaller. However, the frame rate is a bit on the low side, making everything seem choppy and unrealistic. Even worse are the bleak colors and repetitive wall patterns. Almost every section of the game has those gray, lifeless walls of stone, and the mist effect doesn't let a single joyful ray of sunshine hit the ground. The items all look like what they are supposed to be, which is a nice improvement upon the original, considering that you couldn't even see your items in the first place in that one. The map is also nice and is extremely useful as well (That's what I hear. I missed it my first time around, causing more frustration than you can swing a stick at).
Various animals call Shadowgate home, and these help make the game a little more bearable and a little less repetitive (Homer's challenge is to find the gray cat beast). The one truly shining point of the game is the beginning and ending movies. Sadly, these qualify as some of the system's best (Poor old N64), and reminded me of why I got my Playstation. Cheesy or not, the game's Graphics weren't all that bad and get a 76%.
The music of Shadowgate was my second favorite part of the entire thing. A background minstrel band, gracing your quest with a decent number of traditional, medieval songs, accompanies the entire game, helping you get through the other cheesy portions of it. There wasn't a single section of the game where the music got on my nerves (Well, I did get sick of the first tower's music when I got stuck on one annoying puzzle).
While the music was good, the sound takes the first place prize. Whether you're jumping in a pit or fleeing a big, strong person who doesn't like you, I never got tired of hearing cowardly Del scream in terror. Though few and far between, the more standard sounds stand out as well. By far the game's only saving grace, Sound/Music gets a 90%.
The first Shadowgate had no character interaction, a very lame plot, and still kept you interested in what's going on due to the descriptive… uhmmm… descriptions of all of your items (I know it sounds stupid, but I found this to be a lot more interesting than the actual story). The sequel is a different story. There are now a handful of characters to talk to, and even though there is almost no character development, there is a nice amount of plot progression that the first game lacked. However, most of the characters you deal with are barely involved in your quest, and this is hardly a fair trade for the loss of those item descriptions. Without a Look option available, you can only interact with a fraction of your surroundings. The game does clear up some questions that arose in the first game and also gives you a lot more background, but the plot is undeniably weak. Storyline gets a 73%.
The first Shadowgate had controls that were just plain annoying, but fortunately, the sequel improved upon them. You look around the rooms using the analog stick, move with the C buttons, open menus with the B and Start buttons, check the map with the R trigger, and squat with Z. The controls still leave much to be desired. You cannot move diagonally, you have to be directly in front of something to use it, and walking speed is just slow enough to get on your nerves. Although it is an improvement, they still have some work to do in this department. Controls get an 80% for effort.
Although the game sounds nice and looks bearable, there is almost nothing enjoyable in it whatsoever. The first game had the fun of exploration. This game is far more linear than the first, locking off places you aren't supposed to be at yet and stifling your wanderlust. The first let you kill yourself in countless ways. This one has fewer than ten. The first game was a classic. This one isn't. Overall, Shadowgate 64: Trials of the Four Towers gets a 67%.
Gameplay - Advertised as "Coma inducing." 50%
Graphics - Not quite jaw dropping. 76%
Sound/Music - "AAAAAAAAH! Thud." Need I say more? 90%
Storyline - At least I know who the magician in the original was now. 73%
Controls - They can't solve one problem without bringing up another. 80%
Overall - That scary hobo at the store said it would be good. 67%