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Shadowgate

by Anonymous (reimplemented by David Griffith) profile

Game/Fantasy
1987

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Decent implementation of a classic game, October 29, 2015
David Griffith has adapted the 1987 graphic adventure game Shadowgate, by ICOM Simulations, Inc., for Inform. I have previously played the graphic game in its NES port. In this review, I will start with addressing this version as an adaptation, and then move on to the qualities of the game itself.

In Shadowgate, you are a warrior tasked with entering the eponymous castle and slay the evil Warlock Lord before he can summon the Behemoth, a huge monster of immense power. While the plot is slight, the game is large, with dozens of rooms and a wide range of items to collect. Puzzles are of the use-object-on-object variety. There is a time limit, in the form of the torch that provides you with light: as you progress through the castle, you find fresh torches.

The NES version of the game had good graphics: perhaps not by today's standards, but good enough to provide ambience, in addition to the clarity required to solve puzzles. Unfortunately, I don't think the writing in the IF adaptation is up to replacing them. It expands on the text in the original, giving the detail required to interact with the game world, but is mostly bare-bones and functional. The text has some old-school features that have moved out of fashion in parser games: for example, listing important items on a separate line. I also came across some cases where objects are listed twice, in the running description and on said new line. From a purely adaptational perspective, I felt that some of the flavour was missing: for example, I missed the grates in the Epor room, behind which the player could smell the stench of an animal and hear claws.

The greater wealth of commands possible in a parser game is rather underused. For example, one location is a cave containing a chasm, with the description "From the darkness below rise the screams of the undead", but typing LISTEN gives you the stock "You hear nothing unexpected." Likewise, SMELL, which could have been used to great effect in a crumbling castle full of bones and decaying items, only seems to be implemented once.

This makes it seem like the implementation is artless, but it's not. Griffith has made some subtle changes to make the game playable as text-only. For example, where the graphical original would hint at a hidden door with a faint outline on the wall, this adaptation may contain text such as "You feel a slight draft coming from the north." There are also cases where object descriptions provide hints that weren't in the original. Map layout has been streamlined to make compass direction navigation easier: where the original might have two doorways in the same wall, the adaptation might have one to the north and one to the west.

I also had serious problems with the way spells were implemented. When finding spells, you need to use a "gnusto" spell to commit them to your spellbook... except in some cases, you then also need to type "learn [SPELL NAME]" before you can cast the spell.

The game itself... is of its era. The plot is an excuse; deaths are plentiful (sometimes fair, often not); booby-trapped objects and exits are common; when violence is the answer, only one specific weapon will do. Readers may be relieved to hear that it does not contain a maze. Puzzles are often hard, and worse, unintuitive. For example: (Spoiler - click to show)in one specific place you need to light a rug on fire, uncovering a key. At this point, the player will have encountered half a dozen rugs, and while they can all be burnt, none of the others hide anything. Others are made more difficult by the parser. The one that gave me most trouble (even knowing what I needed to do): (Spoiler - click to show)PUT BURNING TORCH ON ICE, to thaw a frozen lake.

It is the fate of early examples of media that their virtues get repeated in work after work, while their flaws are left behind. I loved playing the NES Shadowgate at an age where you could justify spending months trying to crack an (unfair) puzzle. The ambience of magic and mystery is powerful, with a wealth of spells, prophecies and strange objects; the little hints of a wider world tug at the imagination; the original writing, while perhaps not high literature, is evocative; there are enough genuinely clever puzzles and hints to make me forgive the wall-banging ones. I want to thank Mr. Griffith for porting this game to a format where more people could experience it.

But today, when the original has been emulated and can be downloaded or played online, graphics and music included, I don't believe there is a place for it.

Comments on this review

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deathbytroggles, September 27, 2020 - Reply
Excellent review. The NES version is one of my favorite 8-bit games, warts and all. Considered playing this and your review will save me the trouble!
namekuseijin, December 25, 2015 - Reply
the original can be emulated in all of its clunky pixelized glory and looped chiptune. I very much prefer pure text over that. Reminds me that most graphical adventures have aged terribly, but the fine prose of Infocom's Deadline reads even better than before, on smooth fonts in my tablet...
Christina Nordlander, December 29, 2015 - Reply
To each their own. I grew up in the early 90s; I don't have an issue with 8-bit graphics or chiptunes.

And the writing in this game really isn't that good, especially not the bits that were added in the Inform version. It's not bad either, but it's solidly middling.
namekuseijin, December 29, 2015 - Reply
neither have I, kid.
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