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Video Game: Shadowgate

Shadowgate is an Adventure Game created by ICOM Simulations, the third of their MacVenture series. Originally released in 1987 for the Apple Macintosh, it was ported to many other systems, such as Windows, Amiga, Game Boy Color, and, perhaps most famously, the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Famous among adventure games for its innovative and groundbreaking story. Just kidding. The story is just a typical story of a hero venturing into the lair of the Big Bad to take him out and save the world. So what? The real stars of the game are how many deaths are possible, and the diversity and size of the castle itself. It's hard to say the exact percentage, but there are actually a few YouTube videos of all the possible deaths.

Your torch runs out, you die. Open the wrong door, you die. Teleport inaccurately, you die. Move forward when a monster is still standing, you die. Use the wrong weapon on a monster, you die. Use a weapon on yourself, you die. Reach for the wrong item, you die. Etc. Etc. Die.

Yet, for some, that is half the fun of the game. For others, the appeal the still challenging puzzle solving, since this game has a time limit, which is uncommon for such games, even now.

Also has a fantastic soundtrack (the NES and Game Boy Color versions that is).

Two sequels were produced: Beyond Shadowgate, developed by ICOM and released exclusively for the Turbo CD in 1991; and Shadowgate 64: Trials of the Four Towers, developed by TNS and released for the Nintendo 64 in 1999.

A revival project funded by Kickstarter successfully reached its goal of securing funding in 2012 and a remake of the original title was released on August 21, 2014. Learn more here.


This game provides examples of:

  • Actual Pacifist: Lord Jair and his son get into combat situations in their games. Not so with Del. Even the Warlock Lord is defeated by a statue of Lord Jair.
  • Ascended Extra: Lakmir plays a much greater role in 64 than he did in the original title.
  • Armor Is Useless: The game and instruction manual gives a few references to your hero's armor... and you can get a spiffy new helmet, shield, and gauntlets from the castle. But everything still kills you. You should have been a purple-underwear-clad nudie like Ace Harding in the beginning of Deja Vu II.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The "Hit" command shows a screen-filling, dramatic "POW!"... but it is worthless worthless worthless except for two occasions (entering the arrow room, and accessing the gem bag). Use it on almost any enemy and you are MEATSAUCE. Even the sword is only useful on one enemy, and he has to already be unconscious for it to work.
  • Booby Trap: Numerous, such as for instance floors that open up, a mirror that leads to outer space, and what not.
  • Canon Discontinuity: 64 completely disregards Beyond, probably because so few people would have been able to play it in the first place.
  • Chained to a Wall: The chained woman in the original who's really a werewolf and will handily kill the player if freed.
  • The Chooser of The One: Lakmir was the one who sent Lord Jair on his mission to defeat the Warlock Lord, and he later motivates Del to jump at the call in 64.
  • Damsel in Distress: Subverted. The chained woman in the tower is actually a werewolf put there to guard the Golden Blade.
  • Darkness Equals Death: You have two torches. You have to keep at least one of them lit, or else you'll stumble around in darkness until you die. This is even true in rooms where there's a visible light source or if the "room" is outside. The remake is more sensible about this, as some "rooms" have a source of fire or are outside; you can even use these sources to light any torches from your inventory. The remake also allows you to move to another area once after a torch dies, but any moves after that cause your character to trip.
  • Death by Falling Over: Out of all the possible ways to die in the game, you can also die by simply tripping in the darkness and falling face first if your last torch gets snuffed out. The remake takes it a step further by describing that you fall so hard that blood and grey matter go flying everywhere; hilariously, if you die this way by moving back a room (or turning around) the narration describes how Jair quickly and dramatically whips around before tripping and becoming one with the floor.
  • Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: If you die in this game (and, rest assured, you will), the game starts you one screen back from where you died.
  • Emphasize EVERYTHING: The NES version has all text in ALLCAPS, and some sentences (particularly involving surprises or deaths) end with TWO EXCLAMATION POINTS!! The drama! The drama!
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: At the end, you are offered her hand as part of the standard reward.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: It's an old school dungeon crawler CRPG, a la Wizardry or Might and Magic, so expect a LOT of ugly, angry opposition. It would be easier to list the traps that aren't fatal, and at least one is randomly fatal. This is lampshaded in one instance, when you encounter a giant snake and the player character expects to die at any moment. Upon closer inspection, it turns out the snake was just a normal statue.
  • Expy: The remake has the Behemoth as a stone-and-lava creature who has existed since the foundations of the world were laid, much like the Balrog.
  • Frame-Up: Prince Erik is framed for the murder of his father, Lord Jair.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • At the time this game came out, Nintendo was pretty tight on the censorship, yet the word "Hell" appears in at least four instances of gameplay. Most of the deaths are intact as well and describe some pretty gory scenes, albeit only in text.
    • The Game Boy Color version (which was a minor remake of the NES version, but with enhanced graphics and extra language options) received an "E for everyone" rating, which means the game managed this twice.
  • The Grim Reaper: Shows up in the death screen.
  • Guide Dang It: Unless you are using a guide or have a buddy along to guide you, trying to complete the games without knowing what specific item goes on what specific spot/enemy will drive you nuts.
  • Have a Nice Death: The descriptions are varied, and can get fairly graphic.
  • Heroic Mime:
    • Inverted in the original versions. The hero actually seems to be perfectly capable of speech; it just so happens that no-one in Castle Shadowgate can actually understand what you're saying. Weirdly, this includes the sphinx (who speaks to you during the course of the game) and the Big Bad. The only person who can understand you is the troll, and even then he just says that he doesn't feel like speaking and tells you to get lost.
    • Partially averted in the remake. Jair never speaks in any cutscene, save for screaming for help when he's about to die. Doing certain actions, such as speaking to mirrors, has him give some rather humorous dialogue, usually with Yorick chiming in.
  • Hint System: The most useless one in adventure gaming. When you get to the point where you'd really need it, all it does is tell you some variation on, "Don't give up!"
  • Hollywood Torches: Horrifyingly averted.
  • Interface Screw: Three instances in Shadowgate 64. A room in the Tower of Trials (filled with spinning blades) alters your directional movement. Wearing the Blue Ring also alters them in the same way. Finally, drinking either the Liquid Sunset or the Night Elixir makes your vision swagger around as if you're drunk for a while.
  • Inventory Management Puzzle: The computer versions of the game didn't have pages of items that you could sort through like the NES version did. Instead, you only had one window to store items in and they had to be arranged in ways where they can fit in the window, which was similar to the attache case used by Resident Evil 4. If you didn't have enough space, you had to dump an item at the room you were in to make more space.
  • Malevolent Architecture: Someone would have to make a video game of Tomb of Horrors to make a more dangerous place.
  • The Many Deaths of You: Taken Up to Eleven. Either this game's greatest strength or its greatest weakness: You are going to die. A lot. But at least there's a good variety.
  • Moon Logic Puzzle:
    • How was I supposed to know that the replica of a shooting star would turn into a real shooting star when I threw it, or that it was the only way to kill the wyvern?!
    • So what's the "special" torch for? Killing a wraith. Wait, what?
    • Well, you obviously need that cloak for heat protection.
    • DeceasedCrab sums up this game's puzzles in his and Madamluna's LP when she comes up with a bizarre way to solve one of the puzzles.
      "That's the most absurd logic I've heard. Go for it."
  • Nintendo Hard: Good luck beating the game without at least a hintbook. The remake adds a few Myst-style puzzles on top of that.
  • No OSHA Compliance: There are more than a few things in the game that will collapse if you try to walk on them or climb them. In some versions of the game this is justified, since the backstory establishes that Castle Shadowgate had been abandoned for centuries before the Warlock Lord moved in, and presumably fixing the place up wasn't high on his list of priorities.
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: The Staff of Ages can only be used by the bloodline of kings. A subtle hint that Del will fail if he tries to use it, himself, on the Warlock Lord.
  • Our Elves Are Better: Del Cottonwood is a halfling, but has the trademark ears and hair of an elf while being about the size of a human, and his role as protagonist is probably supposed to imply some measure of wisdom/intuition for being able to survive Castle Shadowgate.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: The princess is wearing one at the end, in the versions she appears. The NES version has her in a white dress, possibly with white fur trim (the bitmap image leave it up in the air).
  • Press X to Die: Using the "Hit" command on nearly any enemy will get you killed.
  • Red Herring: All over the place.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent:
    • Several obstacles are reptilians in the first two games. Averted with the dragon in 64.
    • The first game also has a subversion: a huge threatening snake turns out to be a harmless statue, which is transformed into the Staff of Ages, the weapon you need to defeat the Big Bad.
  • Riddle of the Sphinx: One room has a Sphinx, and the player must answer his riddle by showing him the item that it describes. (Surprisingly enough, you don't die if you answer incorrectly; instead, you just get transported to another room.)
  • Schmuck Bait: No shortage of this. Word to the wise: EXAMINE things before you take/use/etc. them.
  • Sdrawkcab Name: The "Epor" spell.
  • Sequel Hook: "The first story's end." Fortunately there were sequels. The remake also has one in its final cutscene, showing the events that bring the beginning of Beyond Shadowgate.
  • Sequence Breaking: If you go into the room of flames, you get sent back to the previous room. You're expected to go find the cloak to protect you from the heat. However, if you kill yourself after being sent back, the game respawns you in the last room you where in; the flaming room, allowing you to bypass the cloak altogether.
  • Shout-Out: The remake adds a companion in the form of a talking skull named Yorick.
  • Songs in the Key of Panic: In the NES and GBC versions, a creepy tone plays when you have one torch remaining and it's close to being snuffed out.
  • Spirit Advisor: Lord Jair towards his son in Beyond, Lakmir towards Del in 64.
  • Standard Hero Reward: "You are bestowed a kingdom to rule, and the king's fair daughter's hand!!"
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: The game tells you what must be done in the form of your typical rhyming prophecy, the last two lines of which are "Joining two, the Golden Blade/The last to invoke, the Platinum Horn". There is no obvious reason this was done except to break the rhyme, as the item referred to is indeed called the Golden Thorn.
    • Averted in the remake, which corrects the prophecy to say "Golden Thorn" as it should.
  • Trial-and-Error Gameplay: Loads of it.
    • One room is a hall of mirrors, and you have to guess which mirror to smash to continue. Smash the wrong one, and you get sucked out into space, or the broken glass kills you.
  • Timed Mission: The limited amount of torches. Also, in the PC version, taking too long anyway will allow the Warlock Lord to summon the Behemoth, and you lose no matter where you are at that point.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • The main protagonist, depending on how you play the game.
    • There are a couple cases where the hero is dumb of his own volition, however. For example, the player telling the hero to go down a well results in the hero diving head first!
  • Troll Bridge: A troll who wants a toll. Or he'll kill you. Of course, this being Shadowgate, he'll kill you even if he gets it. Possibly justified in the first time you see him you don't have gold, and can only get by him by hitting him with a spear. The second time, you do have gold, but he's probably pretty sore about you hitting him with a spear.
  • Unwinnable by Design: In the PC version, each spell can be used only once (unlike the console version, where you can use a spell multiple times), and using the wrong spell at the wrong time can make the game unwinnable.
  • Violation of Common Sense
  • Violence Is the Only Option: Hey look, a Damsel in Distress chained up in a tower! Let's kill her! Good thing she turned out to be a werewolf, which you didn't know until after the fact! (or you tried something else and got killed)
  • With This Herring: You enter Castle Shadowgate with merely a torch and worthless armor.
  • You All Meet in a Cell: Beyond and 64 both start with the protagonists — Prince Erik and Del Cottonwood, respectively — getting thrown into a dungeon to rot. Del and the magician Agaar are Conveniently Cellmates.


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alternative title(s): Shadowgate
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