Retro Gaming: Shadowgate

Game: Shadowgate
System: Mac, Atari ST, and NES
Year: 1987 for Mac / 1989 for NES
Type: Point & Click Adventure

About Shadowgate: In Shadowgate, the player must solve a series of puzzles throughout the castle in order to proceed to the Warlock Lord’s chamber. Due to the castle’s perilous nature, at least one lit torch must be in the player’s possession at all times; if the torch is extinguished, the player soon stumbles, breaking his neck, and must then continue from a saved game (or the area in which they died, in game console versions). Since there is only a finite number of torches to be found throughout the game, this effectively acts as a time limit to proceedings. Various items that can be acquired include sword, sling and other ancient weapons; though these weapons can not actually be used as striking weapons, they can be clicked on at the appropriate time to deliver a fatal blow to specific enemies.

The game is notorious for its many opportunities of death, including being burned by a dragon’s breath, attacked by a cyclops, sucked into outer space through a broken mirror, dissolved by acidic slime, mauled by a wolf-woman, eaten by sharks, and suicide. In fact, virtually any action taken by the player which is not the correct solution to a puzzle will result in a fatality. These deaths were often graphically described in the game’s text (along with often sardonic and humorous comments), even in the NES version (in spite of Nintendo’s policy of censorship at the time). Many of the game’s puzzles rely on a system of trial and error, the problem of which is overcome by the ability to save the game state (as in most adventure games). Subtle hints can be found in books and the descriptive game texts. In the NES version, these are replaced by an outright hint feature which gives vague clues about what is noteworthy in any given room in the castle. The further the player progresses, however, the more useless this feature becomes, deteriorating into nothing but encouraging messages by the game’s end. The NES version of Shadowgate also carries the distinction of being one of the few NES games to be available in a Swedish language version.

At the end of the game, the Warlock Lord has succeeded in opening the gates of Hell and summoning up the Behemoth. But with a holy artifact called the Staff of Ages, the player is able to mortally wound the demon; as it dies, the Behemoth drags the Warlock Lord with him into Hell. The player returns victorious to his kingdom, where he is betrothed to the king’s daughter and entitled High Lord of the Westland.

Claim to Fame: The game was reviewed in 1987 in Dragon #128 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in “The Role of Computers” column. The reviewers stated that “Shadowgate is a great adventure game in that you must continually be aware of what’s already been accomplished to complete subsequent puzzles.” The reviewers gave the game 5/5 stars.
Trivia: The Swedish language version was noted because the “Go” and “Hit” abilities were mistranslated into “Gä” and “Slä”, instead of “Gå” and “Slå” which is the correct translation. Bergsala included a letter with an apology.

NERD TREK has Shadowgate available to play on our website directly through your browser!  You may save your game as normal but you must then hit F10 to obtain a code to enter upon your return so that you do not lose your progress.


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About Jonathan G. Nelson

Jonathan G. Nelson is the editor-in-chief and owner of NERD TREK. He is also owner/publisher at AAW Games /, a tabletop gaming company based in Snoqualmie, WA. Connect with Jonathan via Facebook.