There are not many games that had a bigger impact on me than Shadowgate on the NES. As a 13-year old, I bought this game on a whim and the unique writing, eerie atmosphere, and chilling music cemented this game as one of my all-time favorites. Playing this opened me up to a world of adventure and RPG games that I had zero experience with beforehand. A remake of Shadowgate was crowd-funded and released five years ago on the PC, but I missed that iteration and was delighted to see it was getting a Nintendo Switch port. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so excited…
If you’ve played the classic Shadowgate or other adventure games akin to it, this remake plays nearly identically to the original. For those new to this style of game, this is an adventure title that lacks any real combat. The goal is to successfully navigate though the castle, which is filled with monsters, traps, and countless other types of peril in order to defeat the evil warlock.
As you explore the castle, all in first-person mode, each room will feature a different setting and you can look at the items and surroundings. You have basic commands, such as: Use, Hit, Open, Speak, Look, and Go. There will be areas or doors that are either locked, impassible, or blocked by a creature or obstacle. It’s up to you to pick up items (weapons, orbs, coins, and even brooms) and learn spells and then figure out when to use them in the right spots to power through the castle. Using the incorrect item or performing the wrong action often results in your death, as mortal danger lurks around every corner in Castle Shadowgate. There is a lot of guesswork and trial and error, so it’s best to use the quick save option often so you can pick up right where you left off. The game does have a timer of sorts; you need to keep gathering torches because they’ll burn out after a time, requiring you light a new one.
This new version of Shadowgate has slightly more story than the original, including a nice introduction sequence and a few short cut scenes in the game, but overall the basic premise remains the same. You play as Jair and are set on a quest by the wizard Lakmir to stop the evil Warlock Lord who controls Castle Shadowgate. Much of the layout is very close to first game and many parts will seem quite familiar to those who played the original back in the ‘80s, but there are several additional areas and many of the puzzles and characters are either new or altered. New to this version, is Yorick. He is a talking skull found right away and he will serve as a guide, and give the occasional hint if you are stuck. There is a narrator in the cinematics and some vocal sound effects, but most of the dialogue and story remains in text format. There is the option to play in four different difficulty modes, including Iron Man mode where there is no saving.
The selling point of Shadowgate is the modern graphics and digitally orchestrated score. These areas of the game were giant disappointments to me. The NES version has one of the greatest soundtracks of all time, filled with a large variety of sinister chiptune tracks. This new score has the classic theme updated, but much of the rest of the game’s music falls flat and in no way lives up to the bar the first game set. However, there is an option to use the classic music and text. The graphics also were a let down. I loved the art style of the creepy settings and ghoulish creatures in the original, and this new style failed to capture the nefarious atmosphere of the castle and its inhabitants. The cinemas were okay, but didn’t add anything to the gaming experience for me. The controls took a long time for me to adjust to and I don’t care for them at all. To be fair, the original Macventure titles didn’t feature the smoothest controls either, but they were easy to use at least. In this new one, I’d end up taking or using something that I simply wanted to view, often resulting in a fatal mistake.
I was so excited to see one of my favorite series get a reboot and come to the Nintendo Switch, but much like Shadowgate 64, I was left disappointed. This remake lost all of the magic, wonder, and horror of the original. We end up with a slow, sluggish, and rather boring game instead. A $19.99 price tag is way too much for a mediocre product that came out five years ago on PC. I’d be shocked if the new generation of gamers that has never played the original would find any enjoyment here. If you’re looking for a great adventure title on the Switch, you’ll have a much better time with Thimbleweed Park and The Wardrobe.
- Graphics - 5/105/10
- Sound - 5/105/10
- Gameplay - 7/107/10
- Lasting Appeal - 4/104/10
Final Thoughts: MEDIOCRE
The lesson learned here is that there are plenty of great games that do not need remakes. I’d love to see the game designers make a true sequel that plays and looks like the original. In a better world, Super Nintendo owners would have gotten a direct sequel to Shadowgate and this series and others like it would live on today.