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Thread: Shadowgate (2014)

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    Default Shadowgate (2014)

    Shadowgate (zojoi 2014, for Windows / Mac / iOS / Android)

    Graphics: 9/10

    Remarkable, lovely scenes and cinematics.

    Sound: 8/10

    Nice themes with some homages to the original, but oddly chosen at times.

    Gameplay: 6/10

    Would greatly benefit from less interaction overload and a better hint system.

    Overall: 8/10

    Shadowgate, with its wealth of inventory liberally sprinkled with red herrings and its many possible action combinations, provides a unique level of frustra-er, challenge! No, frustration. Shadowgate has seen adaptations for several platforms, though the NES version was the one I was most familiar with. That game bears a certain infamy for stopping most players at the very first room in the game, yet remains a memorable and beloved classic. When the Kickstarter for this newest version launched in 2012, I was intrigued. When it finally released in 2014, I felt excitement... and a creeping sense of dread. I set forth with this newest iteration to see if I'd have an easier time with it, if it did the older ones justice and, most importantly, if it was an enjoyable experience on its own merits.

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    I found myself progressing for, at most, 45 minutes at a time before getting stuck again, even with the small advantage that solutions from the previous game afforded me. Most of my time in the castle Shadowgate involved wandering around chambers I'd already been, swatting walls and chairs and corpses with an old broom, hoping that item would finally come in handy, or reading the same few variations of "your spell fizzles" for the fortieth time, or reducing young Jair's hands to a pulpy mess by smacking every immovable object I could find. I do the hero great shame; a blind man without a cane is more graceful than the wild, pointless flailing I had Jair attempt. I maintain that it is not entirely my fault.

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    The meat of the game is investigating each unique scene, interacting with and collecting items, information, and spells, used to overcome various obstacles throughout the game. Sometimes you're slaying goblins, catching elementals, running from dragons, or merely trying to find a key to open a door. All of this is accomplished by using your mouse or hotkeys to manipulate yourself and inventory items and interact with the environment.

    Each time that I thought I'd become savvy enough to the game's particular logic to keep a steady pace, I'd inevitably get stuck. And when you get stuck in Shadowgate, you get stuck stubbornly. There's such a variety of action combinations that it's no wonder the one solution gets lost in a sea of useless attempts. There's nine verbs in this game, not all of them particularly useful. For example, the close action is used pretty much exclusively to close doors, something which would rarely, if ever, come in handy. I have yet to encounter an enemy that will pursue you into another area, and anything with that level of initiative would probably be able to open a door. It's definitely no Sierra Games Lick Action™, which is equally useless but far more entertaining.

    The speak command is mostly used to talk to Yorick. Yorick is terrible. It pains me to say this, since, after one particular fantasy adventure featuring a talking skull sidekick, I had high hopes for the dynamic between Jair and Yorick. The fact is, he's damned useless. His primary function, besides to make bland and unfunny quips, is to provide hints. Unfortunately, he repeatedly failed to answer the question, “What now?”, sometimes just stating things that the player could infer or plainly see with their own two eyes. Upon finding a mechanical device, placing within a gear that I'd found, and fiddling with switch positions to no avail, I asked Yorick for ideas. He promptly informed me that by moving the levers to an unknown configuration and pressing the button, something may activate somewhere. Thanks, Yorick. I didn't know what levers and buttons traditionally did. Perhaps the most useful the glowing bonehead had ever been is when he told me what item I'd initially need in the mirror room. That's decent advice, disregarding the fact that brought that knowledge with me from the old Shadowgate.

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    I've read criticism somewhere regarding traditional adventure games, stating that they are primarily games in which you rub two inventory items together until the plot advances. Most adventure games of yore at least have the advantage of having a reasonably small collection of items, places, and verbs available at any one given time. The inventory of Shadowgate is great in volume and constantly shifting as puzzles are solved, and it can be hard to keep track of what comes and goes. At one point, I could have sworn my grappling hook just randomly disappeared, with no sight of either of its components anywhere. I must admit, I'm genuinely amused by the fact that this is the only fantasy game where a honest-to-goodness sword is rated towards the top of the list of most useless items, just below the dozen skulls I scavenged and can't discard.

    To make matters worse, on Master difficulty, keys aren't discarded after use, meaning you have that to track on top of everything else. Even most of the archive items I pick up I immediately disregard, as they're either not directly related to my quest, or written in such an arcane, inscrutable way that I may as well not have had it and brute-forced the solution to the puzzle it alludes to. At one point, on the moderate difficulty, I found some strange document detailing, vaguely, spires and their relations to the times of day. The same item in the easiest difficulty explains how one might utilize the mirror room. I still can't see the connection. Even the classic "Three are one" riddle provides more literal instructions.

    To be fair, I have a hard time maintaining my irritation at that last part. The riddles certainly add to the arcane atmosphere of the game. Gameplay frustrations deal a softer blow through the cover of atmosphere. The new musical score for the game is very nicely composed and mostly new stuff, with a few nods to the original score (available instead for those feeling nostalgic). The selection of what track goes where is a little questionable at times, with tense, evocative songs sometimes set to relatively still and harmless rooms. More than once I found myself checking my torch to see if the game was trying to warn me like its classic counterpart, only to be surprised to see a bright, healthy flame. More jarring are the classic transitions and their accompanying sounds, which provide a silly amount of disconnect and are, thankfully, quite optional.

    Every scene is done up with a wonderful, painted aesthetic. Each room in the game is memorable and interesting to look at, from the most elaborate stonework to the barest cavern. The cinematics, in particular, are excellent at setting the tone of the game and giving your quest meaning in a brief, but eloquent way. Locations and puzzles avoid being too arbitrary and abstract thanks to the artwork and descriptions. At one point, I found myself standing in a library, quietly picking through the 50 or so books sitting on one of the shelves, forsaking the castle for a brief moment in favor of the lore of the lands surrounding it. This is a non-trivial facet of the game. The sheer enormity of the quest and its impact on the world, the loneliness in seeing it through, and the potent danger surrounding, suffocating, always; it's something that no other iteration of Shadowgate has conveyed better than this one. And no other iteration has made it just as good for repeated playthroughs. With three difficulties, and a significant number of changes to the puzzles in each one, this is an adventure that bears repeating.

    When I get thoroughly irritated and give up for the day, I find my mind wandering back to my most recent discoveries, trying to tackle seeming dead-ends from new angles. It's just too intriguing! I can't get Shadowgate out of my head. I guess that's where the frustration comes in. I'm so compelled to move forward that each obstacle seems like a deliberate, malicious attempt to halt my advance. Now that I think about it, that's probably what they actually are in the context of the setting. Huh. I guess there's some value to that, then!

    Written by Kaypar
    Last edited by Nz17; 02-01-2015 at 09:11 AM.

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