Death is back to taunt Jair one more—or rather, many, many more times.
It wasn't hard to think of Dark Souls when watching the game's original co-creator Karl Roelofs run through some of its devious puzzles, which in its revival is like playing living concept art. In Shadowgate you die a lot, the game relishes in killing you, and it's part of an era people call "Nintendo Hard" (I tend to think of as "Nintendifficult.") In short, Shadowgate's puzzles are devious, and creators Roelofs and Dave March have updated their game for the current generation.
Based on the first graphic adventures, originally released for the Macintosh in 1987 and ported to the NES in 1989, the current remake was successfully funded as a Kickstarter project in November 2012 and features a gorgeous speed-painting aesthetic. The game is largely, nigh-uncompromisingly the same, playing from screen to screen as you explore and deal with the game's devious puzzles in an attempt to kill an evil wizard who has become a blight on the land. It has gone through a few changes, with three difficulty levels that make the puzzles easier or harder. They also dispense the hints, which are distributed by a skull you carry named Yorick, with a wry sense of humor.
Shadowgate's gameplay is similar in respect to other famous adventure titles (Secret of Monkey Island, King's Quest, etc.), but differs from many of those games in its first-person view. At the top of the screen are the game's commands, like look, open, close, hit, eat, and speak, which can be used with elements of the environment, Jair himself, or items from his inventory to solve the game's puzzles. Any command or object can be assigned a quick-key for ease of use, and double-clicking on an object can be used for basic tasks. Torches play a huge role in the game providing light for the rooms but they slowly go out over time, plunging the game into eventual darkness unless you've got a fair supply of them.
The most obvious overhaul to Shadowgate is the gorgeous visuals. The game now features cut-scenes built from digital paintings, like motion comics or animatics. Created from speed paintings, they have a rough beauty. The screen in the game itself resembles the art produced for tabletop gaming books and Magic: The Gathering cards. Like the cinematic cut-scenes, the screens sometimes feature light animated elements.
With the success of the Kickstarter, Roelofs and March are excited to bring back other properties they created and seem even more excited about the way they can achieve them. Roelofs and I discussed the game's TurboGrafx-16 follow-up, Beyond Shadowgate, which had started out in the same format as Shadowgate, Deja Vu, and Uninvited, but was changed when the publisher decided to take it in a different direction. He sounded excited to see the title rebuilt in its original intended format and the anxiousl to see the same with their unfinished N64 game, Shadowgate Rising.
The game has a mode that simulates an 8-bit experience too, and you can switch off the new sweeping orchestral score in favor of the classic 8-bit soundtrack. As Easter Eggs, in addition to the 42 independent ways of dying in the game, there are ten special deaths that have to be found outside of the regular puzzles.
Shadowgate is targeting a Mac and PC release on Steam in the fall of this year with plans to expand to tablets (for which the interface seems especially suited) and Android soon after and will be available at a retail price of $19.99.