Innocence Lost; My Shadowgate Experience
Follow Developer: ICOM Simulations
Publisher: Kemco
Release Date: 1989
Nintendo Entertainment System

Innocence Lost; My Shadowgate Experience

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A lot of my friends don’t know this about me, but as a kid, I went to a private Christian school, rather than a normal public school like everyone else. In reality, this had less to do with my parent’s religion than it was the fact that metro Atlanta public schools were rapidly sliding down the toilet. This school had a lot of odd views in addition to the strict set of rules one would imagine a school like that having. For example, it was every faculty member’s staunch belief that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were heavily influenced by the occult, and therefore anything Ninja Turtle related were banned from school grounds. We all thought it was nonsense, for the most part, but the teachers ran the school, so that was how it went. Pretty much anything out of the ordinary that couldn’t easily be explained was considered satanic or evil. This was how I came to find out about, and later thoroughly enjoy, the game Shadowgate.

realshadwogatescreenI remember looking at an issue of Nintendo Power with another kid at school one day, and we were checking out the Top 30 for the month, and somewhere in the top ten was the game Shadowgate. It looked pretty cool, and I asked my friend, his name was Alex, I think, if he had ever played it. The kid recoiled as he gasped, “Shadowgate? No way man, that game is Devilish!” He followed this with a very disapproving look, as if I had committed a terrible sin by even expressing interest in the game. I filed this game away in my mind as something that I eventually needed to play, and turned my attention to what I was going to buy out of the vending machine at lunchtime. Before we go any further with the story, however, maybe a little history lesson is in order.

shadowgatemacversionShadowgate began life as a point and click style RPG for the old Macintosh computer, as part of the MacVenture series. I didn’t find this out until recently, and this makes perfect sense now that I think about it. The game’s interface, even on the NES version, has a very cut and dry method of gameplay, and one that would have ran perfectly on my Mom’s old Macintosh Performa computer that she had when I was a kid. Developed by ICOM Simulations, Shadowgate saw release on several computer platforms prior to its port to the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989, this time being published by Kemco. In Shadowgate, you are tasked with defeating the evil Warlock Lord, who is threatening to resurrect some ancient behemoth who will destroy the world, or something along those lines. Due to this fact, you enter Castle Shadowgate in an effort to stop him. This game is different from Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior, with the player being tasked to solve intricate puzzles required to advance, with death lurking around every corner. And let me tell you, there must be over 500 ways to get killed in this game, many of them humorous.

shadowgate trollGetting back to my story, a couple of years had passed at the Christian school, and in late 1991 this kid named Ben transferred to our school. I don’t remember much about him other than the fact that he looked like Alex Winter of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure fame, and he wasn’t at our school for very long either. If I didn’t know any better, knowing what I know now, I’d swear that kid had a drug problem. I say this because he was always trying to sell stuff at school, things kids our age would have never parted ways with. One week, he brought all his Nintendo stuff, and was selling it all at fire-sale prices. A girl named Jennifer picked up Paperboy for a dollar. Another kid got Duck Tales and Bayou Billy for five bucks. Me, I ended up with the lion’s share, dropping 15 dollars for Ice Hockey, The Legend of Zelda, Kid Icarus, the NES Advantage (minus the red ball that sat on top of the joystick) and Shadowgate. What a deal! I stuffed all this shit in my backpack before he could change his mind, and after school I went to my Grandparents house for the weekend, and Ben presumably went home to huff glue or buy pot or whatever it was that weirdo did on the weekends.

shadowgate waterfallOnce at my Grandparents house, I hooked my NES up to this old black and white TV set in what was my Aunt’s old bedroom in the back of the house. The first part of the evening after dinner was spent playing Kid Icarus and Zelda, both games of which I quickly fell in love with. I neglected Ice Hockey for the most part, and saved Shadowgate for after midnight, since it was so devilish. The first thing I noticed about the game was the music. As you progress through each room of the castle, the tempo and the tone of the music corresponds with the particular dangers in the room. It’s fair to say that the music was a more prominent feature than the actual graphics, although they didn’t look bad at all; but with the style of game it’s the music that really stood out. As I made my way through the castle, I noticed that my torch kept burning out, killing me in the process. Here was a unique approach to a time limit, there were only a finite number of torches to be found throughout the game, so you really didn’t have time to dally around for any extended periods. The point and click interface was also something that I hadn’t encountered in console gaming, and that to me was a neat touch.

SHadwogateCoffinDemonSo as the hours passed by and I became more and more engrossed in a game that was not-quite-devilish, I became more and more unsettled as I played. The creepy old bedroom I was spending the night in became a little darker and more foreboding; the massive collection of dolls sitting on the dresser next to the bed seemed to watch every move I was making. I broke up the tension by saving my game and switching to something a little more light hearted, like Kid Icarus, which was insanely hard, or a couple of rounds of Ice Hockey. An hour or so later, I picked Shadowgate back up and played until I hit a point that I simply could not figure out; the puzzles in this game ranged from simple to ridiculous. Sometime after 2am, I gave up, frustrated, and went on to play the Legend of Zelda for the first time. That game kept me busy for the next few months, and after saving Hyrule, I was ready to take on Shadowgate, refreshed. I had also found out in the meantime that you could get a hint from the game by pressing the start button. When I say a ‘hint’ I meant more like ‘a dead giveaway.’ This worked most of the time, and I made an effort not to abuse it. However, as you get towards the end of the game the computer stopped giving hints altogether, replacing them with messages of encouragement, you know, since you were so close to the end. Finally, one summer afternoon, I beat the game. I finished my last slice of a Red Baron frozen pizza and basked in the glory of sending the Warlock Lord and his Behemoth back into the pits of hell, saving the day once again.

shadowgate bridgesSo what place does Shadowgate take among the classics when we examine them today? Would we consider it among the finer early role playing games, or a medieval-themed puzzle game? This very original game had a lot to say back when it was first released, literally. The creepy factor, the games VERY sarcastic sense of humor, deep item inventory (trust me, every item in the game has a use…almost), creative ways to die and the way you really have to use your brain to get to the end all translate very well when standing the game up against modern games. I tend to look at this game as an early example of survival-horror, not because it plays like Resident Evil (it doesn’t), but there is a definite sense of danger and urgency throughout the game, and dammit, the game just creeped me out so bad as a kid. If you can locate a copy with a still-functioning battery, or god forbid, one of those emulators, stay up late, turn out the lights and enter Castle Shadowgate. Remember, Death lurks inside.

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Innocence Lost; My Shadowgate Experience , 8.3 out of 10 based on 3 ratings

I am a full time Firefighter/EMT living in the United States. In my spare time, I split my time between modern games on my Xbox and the rich universe of the systems we all grew up with.

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