Review by · July 17, 2000

A 1989 Kemco production, Shadowgate is just one of many puzzle games from the past. This is probably the most famous of them all and it really deserves some sort of memorial for it. Shadowgate is a game that is missing many of the elements that modern games have, and, detrimental as this may sound, I believe that it was not really a problem in any of the games of this nature.

As usual, in a far off medieval land, an ill-tempered wizard has decided to take over the world by summoning the ancient horror of horrors: Behemoth. Only you, the noble prince and greatest knight ever born, can stop him in his diabolical tracks. Unfortunately, the monstrous mage has decided to cast his spells from the impenetrable fortress Shadowgate, and before you can take out the madman, you must successfully survive the myriad menacing things and tons of traps that lie in your fated path. Can you make it through alive? Don’t worry, that was a rhetorical question. You don’t have to answer.

Like all games of this nature, Shadowgate has a very unoriginal and yet very effective method of gameplay. You are first given a number of options to do like “open”, “close”, “hit”, “move”, etc. and a picture of your surroundings. Then, you choose one of those options and drag your cursor over to the picture, position it on top of the thing you want to do the action to, and click. For example, you might want to “open” a door or “take” a mop you find on the ground. You might even want to “use” the sword you are carrying on “self” and end it all (Warning! This action is not good for your health and is definitely not recommended!). There are countless ways to die in this game and each one has a little quote to go along with it. Collect them all!

Item finding makes up most of this game. At one point you might see a bridge that is too dilapidated to cross. If you wait until later, you might find an item that will let you make it without falling. Just be creative and see what you can do with what you have. Remember, just because it’s not your castle doesn’t mean you can’t mindlessly destroy everything in it, so have a ball. Some items are deceptive. Although they may seem important, they might never be used at all. You never know.

One word of advice: scattered throughout the castle are about 25 torches. These items are of vital importance. Like a timer in the average game, the strength of your lit torch slowly dies down. The moment your torch goes out, the game is over. Don’t save your game just because you solved a puzzle if you’ve used up all of your torches to do it.

This game simply follows the eternal pattern for this genre of games. If it didn’t, then it couldn’t be put in the same category that it is now. Besides, Shadowgate is fun. It may not be original, but does that matter? It’s got new puzzles, new pictures, and a slightly overused story, but that’s not important. Gameplay gets an 85%.

When I saw that I had to rate graphics, I had two choices. Choice A: rate the game as a puzzle type of game. Give it a good rating because, from that point of view, it deserves one. Choice B: rate it like you would any other game. Tear it apart for things it can’t help and laugh at the poor little thing. I compromised. I’m giving it a bad rating, but I feel sorry for the little bugger. Shadowgate has no motion whatsoever, somewhat decent pictures for each room, and… that’s it. This is the type of game that doesn’t need graphical aids, but you wouldn’t have a cartridge without them. Painfully, I give this game a 30% in the graphics department.

Shadowgate’s music was a big help. This is the type of text based adventure you’d expect your school’s computer club to silently gather around, the stillness broken only by the occasional nerd-like giggle or the scream that only comes from having an imaginary yet nightmarish dragon spew white-hot flames in your general direction. By adding music, it makes the game a lot smoother and more absorbing. It has a decent variety of songs and each one lets you know exactly how your character feels. Sounds are done as well as the ancient NES can push them, adding even more life to this game. Although unnecessary, Sound/Music gave this game some body, and I give it a 93%.

The story was a weak link in this game. The main story has been used many times, but further plot degeneration comes from the fact that no speech can really be used in it. The main story is weak, but fortunately, the game’s writers gave almost every item a beautiful background that can be read with the “Look” option. This knight will rattle on for hours about his childhood even though the end of the world is almost at hand. The story is interesting in its own way, but that’s not the game’s biggest strength. I give Storyline a 77%.

If you could play this game with a mouse, it would be so much more enjoyable. However, that’s impossible, leaving you with nothing but the four direction keys to move your cursor with. This method of controlling the game is slow, annoying and sometimes makes it tricky to target the right item. Control gets a 65%

Shadowgate was Kemco’s biggest NES puzzler, mixing a corny plot with challenging puzzles, confusing riddles, creativity-inspiring item collection, and a musical composition that holds it all together. If any NES game worked in this day and age, I would recommend all of you puzzle freaks out there to buy it. As for you who bought it and gave it up when your NES stopped working (that’s the excuse I used when I got stuck.), get the emulated version of it and finish it off! I beat it so you can ask me anything, and those ROMs are out there for a reason. It’s legal if you already own it so go ahead. I must say that although Shadowgate isn’t anything special, it was rather enjoyable, and I feel like it deserves more than the 75% Overall rating that I’m giving it, but I can’t tell why…

Gameplay – Not exciting, but enjoyable in any case. 85%
Graphics – I feel like I’m shooting Bambi’s mom here. 30%
Sound/Music – This is what makes up most of this games body, so it had to be good. 93%
Storyline – Been there, heard that, but could you tell me about this rock I found? 77%
Controls – A mouse, a mouse, my kingdom for a mouse! 65%
Overall – It’s a must-have for any Audio/Visual club member. 75%

Overall Score 75
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Andrew DeMario

Andrew DeMario

Andrew went by several names here, starting as a reader reviewer under the name Dancin' Homer. Later known as Slime until we switched to real names, Andrew officially joined RPGFan as a staff reviewer in 2001 and wrote reviews until 2009. Andrew's focus on retro RPGs and games most others were unwilling to subject themselves to were his specialty.