It's been nearly a decade since the original Shadowgate was released for the NES, and in that time, no real heir to its puzzle-solving RPG legacy has emerged. None of the pseudo-sequels or games that followed in the same style could capture the balance, atmosphere, and fairly intuitive puzzle design of the first title. This includes the million-selling Myst, whose one-screen-at-a-time challenges were clearly derived from the halls of Castle Shadowgate. In that time, fantasy games have become increasingly rare, with the Dragon Warriors and Final Fantasies of the world taking different directions or never appearing in the US at all. Now Kemco has seen fit to bring back another fantasy classic, and they've done a fine job of recapturing what made the original such a groundbreaking game.

 The not-so-wonderful wizard
The quest begins...

   Let's dispose of the negatives immediately: the graphics and presentation are strictly average. While the rooms are constructed quite well, don't expect to be constantly ooohing or aaahing at the environments. There is a noticeable amount of fog, but you will quickly learn that gazing down the hall instead of focusing on where you are will make for many overlooked clues. Lastly, games of this type are inherently devoid of reply value, but you won't be finishing your first trip through the castle anytime soon.

   In fact, Shadowgate's greatest strength is the new kind of observant gameplay it demands. Every table, every shelf, every empty bed could hold the hint that solves that next puzzle. At first you will miss seemingly obvious items, but after an hour or two, you'll have fine-tuned your exploration skills to catch everything around you. Far from being tedious, the well-designed puzzles immerse you in the atmosphere and make you forget that you are actually searching for anything at all. The story places you in control of Del, a young Halfling who was traveling with a trade caravan before it was ambushed by thieves. As the sole survivor, you are imprisoned within the nearby Castle Shadowgate, a haven for the many bands of thieves. The puzzles fit perfectly within this environment, with almost no examples of anything random simply thrown in as an awkward solution. In fact, the puzzles here are less "magical" and more practical than those in the first Shadowgate.

Every game has to have a church these days...
A holy place...?

   Before you enter Castle Shadowgate, remember that this game was meant to challenge the dexterity of your mind and not the dexterity your thumbs. If your brain has been turned to Jello by playing all sorts of simplistic RPGs, then Shadowgate may serve as a rude reminder that you haven't mastered anything yet. The quest is long and challenging, presenting lots of areas to explore. Those areas differ a fair amount, from sneaking onto a Cathedral's roof to walking the streets of a town inside the battlements, and are filled with NPCs that fit naturally into their surroundings. The solid music also adds to the atmospherics, with an appropriately adventurous feel throughout.

   The story, while not overly deep, does an adequate job of compelling you to go further into the game. Many aspects of the story refer back to the first game, and people who completed the original are sure to smile at the references to their now-legendary quest. The story is further enhanced by a number of books, journals, and various other parchments that flesh out the history of Shadowgate's world. Items also have more of an affect on characters and story, such as a ring that allows you to speak with the dead or a slipper belonging to someone's missing daughter. Expect to be stumped occasionally, but also expect to find that the solution turns out to be a sensible one.

   Despite owing a great deal to the structure and thematic of the first game, the fully 3D nature of Shadowgate 64 brings an entirely new dimension to the table. For gamers who put thoughtful gameplay first, the lack of graphical flash quickly disappears behind smartly designed puzzles that truly challenge you to think like you were inside a castle. After many years and many derivatives of the original, Shadowgate 64 marks not just a revival of the license, but a true heir to the quality of gameplay which made the license so memorable to begin with.

Review by Ed McGlothlin, GIA.
Shadowgate 64
Developer Infinite Ventures
Publisher Kemco
Genre Adventure
Medium Cartridge
Platform Nintendo 64
Release Date  06.10.99
E3: Kemco displays Shadowgate 64, drops Shadowgate Rising
36 assorted screens
4 character designs
Updated box art