Rom Player: Nesticle
Synopsis: STORYLINE-- You, the "brave knight" as the game so often calls you, have been sent to the Castle Shadowgate to stop a warlock from conjuring a behemoth to destroy the kingdom. It's pretty straight-forward, with a black and white view of good and evil. Yet, despite the simpleness of your goal, Shadowgate finds a dozen ways to become extremely complicated.
It's Slow: This game is, essentially, a text-based roleplaying adventure. There is no great rush to anything; you'll never find yourself pounding buttons as quickly as you can. Your means of interacting with the world is a gauntlet with index finger outstretched, and you use this pointer to select a variety of options (such as "open," "look," "speak," or "hit") from a control panel and whatever items you've collected during your journey.
It Makes You Think: Since there's no serious action in the game, its major point of interest is its puzzles. There's one in almost every room you enter, and some of them are extremely tough to solve. For instance, in one room, you're confronted by three levers, each of which can be set either up or down; you end up having to play with the levers until you have the perfect combination, in the perfect order, before you can move on to the next room. Despite the difficulty, though, almost everything can be solved through simple trial and error. Of course, failing to solve a problem the correct way is almost always fatal, and this is where the fun comes in...
Death: Shadowgate is a masterfully gruesome game. Death is unavoidable, and often highly creative. You navigate the castle by torchlight, and if your torch goes out before you can light another one, you trip in the dark and die... Don't ask how; you just do. If you open the wrong door, you die. You can fall in boiling lava. You can be eaten by a shark. You can fall down pits. You can be melted by a fire-breathing dragon. A cyclops could crush you. You could stab yourself with your own sword. You could be sucked into outer space. The possibilities are endless!
The Problems:The trial and error method of problem-solving can get extremely frustrating after a while. It's amazing how many different combinations of lever movements there are when you've got three levers and the order you move them in is being taken into account. Also, it can be hard to get the gauntlet pointer on the things you want to look at, pick up, open, etc; keyboard/Nintendo directional pads aren't the most precise things in the world, and you'll find yourself spending half of your time just trying to pick up the littler items you find lying around. Finally, the game can be a little long-winded. Because it's mostly a text-based adventure, with pretty pictures for accompaniment, the text is frequent and sometimes unnecessary. On occasion, the game will describe your character's death to you in three different ways before letting you move to the death screen and continue.
The Plusses: You can save any time you like. This becomes a necessity, since you die in almost every new room. On the other hand, it allows you to goof off without feeling the consequences for very long. This game can be pushed to the absolute limits of stupidity; try using one of the dangerous weapons you pick up on yourself, or moving into the middle of a river of molten lava, or, less fatally, using the broom on yourself.
GRAPHICS-- Things are, for the most part, well-rendered. You can usually tell what's on the screen, and if something's a little questionable, you've always got the "look" command at your disposal. Besides, you'll quickly find that you're using the "look" command on things, even when you already know what they are. The hints you can get from that are invaluable.
MUSIC-- I've heard worse music, but after a while, you get extremely sick of hearing the heroic tune that Kemco has tacked to the game. Normally, you'd just mute the game and play your own music over it, but that's not a great idea with Shadowgate. It's easy to lose track of how much time you have before your torch goes out, and the game's music changes when it's about to go out, to give you a warning to light another one. In short, you're stuck with it, even after it starts to get irritating.
ORIGINALITY-- As far as the setting goes, there is no originality at all. All of the beasts and places are drawn from fantasy sources. You'll see werewolves, dragons, yetis, wraiths, and even Charon, the ferryman of the River Styx, but nothing totally new. However, the way these elements are combined, though not necessarily logical, is fun and creative. Also, the dark sense of humor in the game seems pretty innovative for the time.
OVERALL-- Shadowgate is great fun for anyone who doesn't mind a slow, brain-teasing kind of game, or for anyone with a sick enough sense of humor to want to find all of the numerous ways for the hero to become deceased. I think I can confidently recommend it to the patrons of this website.
Best Cheats: This isn't necessarily a cheat, but you can get hints on how to solve the puzzles by pressing alt, if you're playing the ROM on Nesticle. For those of you playing at home, on a real Nintendo console, that's the start button.
Game Play: 9
Overall Rating: 8
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