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Video Game / Shadowgate

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"It is a sad thing that your adventures have ended here!"

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 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).

Several succeeding games were produced: Beyond Shadowgate, developed by ICOM and released exclusively for the Turbo CD in 1993; Shadowgate 64: Trials of the Four Towers, developed by TNS and released for the Nintendo 64 in 1999; and Shadowgate VR: The Mines of Mythrok, developed by Zojoi and released for the Oculus Quest in 2021. In 2023, an official sequel called Beyond Shadowgate was announced as being developed by GrahfMetal (who also made similar games in this style known as Infested and Spectacle), featuring an improved version of the 8-bit graphical style and many other upgrades (you can watch the trailer here). Also received a Tie-In Novel in the Worlds of Power series.

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.

The game was also included as part of a Compilation Re Release titled 8-bit Adventures: Volume 1 for PlayStation 4 and Steam on Oct. 31, 2017.

The series consists of:

This game provides examples of:

  • Actual Pacifist: Lord Jair and his descendant get into combat situations in their games. Not so with Del. Even the Warlock Lord is defeated by a statue of Lord Jair.
  • Adaptational Badass: The werewolf in the remake is no longer an apparent Damsel in Distress chained to a wall, but now one of the Warlock Lord's lieutenants. Even gets named (Malor Kalu). Her still trying to kill you is a lot more justified this time around.
  • Alternate Continuity: With the coming release of Beyond Shadowgate, the developers consider there to be three different timelines in effect — the NES duo (original game and new Beyond), the alternate sequels (TurboDuo Beyond and Shadowgate 64) and the remake's timeline.
  • Anti-Frustration Features: The remake is smarter about dying because your torches go out. If you're outside or in a room with a visible light source, you don't immediately die when your torches aren't lit. Instead, you can move into an area without a light source once, but any moves after that will cause death. Also, any lit torches or sources of open flame can be used with your own torches to reset the torch's timers.
  • 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 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. This is rather egregious in the 2014 remake, as you can find various equipment to wear, but all of it protects you from absolutely jack squatnote . Averted with the shield you find in the same room as the helmet, as you need it to survive the dragons flame in the same room. It will still melt and kill you after a certain number of hits though.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The "Hit" command shows a screen-filling, dramatic "POW!"... but it is 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.
  • Big Bad: The Warlock Lord intends to cover the world in darkness and you have to stop him at the end.
  • Booby Trap: Numerous, such as for instance floors that open up, a mirror that leads to outer space, and what not.
  • Book Safe: The book itself is a trap, and taking it causes you to fall into a pit. It otherwise contains Key #2.
  • Canon Discontinuity: 64 completely disregards Beyond, probably because so few people would have been able to play it in the first place. The teaser for the 2016 release Beyond Shadowgate seems to follow suit.
  • 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.
  • Curse:
    • In the original version, trying to take the cloak or attack the wraith and not using the special torch results in it chanting some words and leaving. You don't die instantly, but an image of the wraith along with a beeping noise indicate that the curse is taking its effect, with the narration mentioning your worsening state. After a while, you fall to the floor and it's all over.
    • In the remake, it's the banshee that curses you after opening one of the coffins.note  Again, it doesn't kill you instantly but the effect is similar to the above example. In this version, however, it's possible to remove the curse.
  • 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 by Materialism: Take the Pot of and Gold and you fall for the oldest trick in the book and die, you don't even need it.
  • Developer's Foresight: The Many Deaths of You include really unconventional or clearly stupid moves you can pull off. These include selecting the USE command for the sword or spear and targeting SELF, which will have your character be Driven to Suicide. You can also jump off the cliff during the final confrontation with the Warlock Lord, which will note how puzzled he is that you came all this way just to jump off a cliff. Why you would want to do those things is anyone's guess, but you can do them.
  • Dub-Induced Plotline Change: The Japanese localization changes the narration from being in second-person to being in first-person, and as a result made the protagonist be overly self-absorbed and hammy. It also removed a few important characters such as Lakmir in their attempt to simplify the dialogue.
  • Epic Fail: Somehow, you swing and miss Yorick if you attempt to use the dirk on him:
    You swing... and miss! You wonder how you could've missed the easy target so badly. Yorick just laughs and and guffaws in amusement.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Everyone you encounter (except the sphinx) will turn your candy-ass hero into meatsauce. Also 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.
  • Excuse Plot: Blah blah Generic Warlock trying to TAKE OVER THE WORLD with a generic evil monster. No one cares, they're just here for the puzzles and crazy deaths.
  • 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.
  • Game-Over Man:
    • Whenever you die, the grim reaper will show up with the caption: "Thou Art Dead!".
    • In the NES version, the Game Over message was changed to "It's a sad thing that your adventures have ended here!!". This has become so iconic that it's used in the remake.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: They are WORTHLESS in the original game as anyone you hit will turn you into meatsauce. In the remake, however, they are useful in taking out those pesky goblins. Sometimes.
  • The Grim Reaper: Shows up in the death screen, saying that "it's a sad thing that your adventures have ended here" to boot.
  • 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. The remake even takes this to a new level with "hidden deaths": a narrator describes your death, accompanying it with visuals and gruesome sounds.
  • Hell Hound: One shows up guarding the Platinum Horn in the first game and has to be banished.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The Music that plays when you only have one torch currently lit and it is about to die, while the music serves as a warning that you should light a new torch soon, you wouldn't know that when playing for the first time until your torch died and then you died, until then you were stuck with hearing the disturbing, eerie, and creepy music.
  • 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, in the NES version. 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!"
    • In the PC remake, a talking skull gives more useful hints, whose usefulness varies by difficulty level.
    • The original NES version came with a hint book, with three tiers of hints. If you had a question as to how to proceed, you could look up one of three tiers of hints: A, B, or C. Tier A gave you a vague idea of what needed to be done, Tier B gave you a more general hint as to what you needed to do, and Tier C outright told you what you had to do. For instance, when trying to figure out how to defeat a werewolf, Tier A would tell you to "meditate on old legends" for the answer, Tier B says that "silver objects" are useful against werewolves, and Tier C tells you to use the silver arrow on the werewolf.
  • Hit Flash: "Hit" something in the original and the screen fills with a large POW!
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The Warlock Lord is defeated when the Hero uses the Staff of Ages on the Behemoth he has just summoned up, and the Behemoth drags the Lord back down into the abyss with him.
  • Hollywood Torches: Averted. The torches only last a few minutes each, and a Song plays just before the last one goes out.
  • 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.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: You can take basically anything that isn't nailed down or directly harmful. Of course, like everything else in this game, that too can get you killed.
  • Light 'em Up: Two gargoyles guarding a passage are defeated this way by casting Illumina, which casts a light so bright that it blinds the gargoyles long enough for the player to slip by.
  • Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me: In the original and remake, the shield will protect you from a few distant licks of a dragon's flame. It is just a useless hunk of metal otherwise in the original. The remake gives a few more useful uses for your shield.
  • Made of Plasticine: That'd be you, and ONLY you. Some of the death quotes describe this, having you get torn apart by the various horrors, including one where you get pureed to the point where "there is not enough left of you to feed the birds".
  • 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: Either this game's greatest strength or its greatest weakness, depending on who you ask. Unless you happen to know just the right sequence of events, you're going to die. A lot. It leads to a Try Everything Pixel Hunt some of the time.
  • Moon Logic Puzzle:
    • How are you supposed to know that the replica of a shooting star would turn into a real shooting star when you throw 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 making the place suitable for guests wasn't high on his list of priorities.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Averted in Shadowgate 64. After escaping the prison cell, you spend a good hour or so roaming underground passages, dusty corridors and abandoned towers without meeting a single living soul — but there are no actual enemies, the ghosts you sometimes meet are benevolent, and even the music itself is mostly calm and soothing. An introvert's paradise indeed.
  • One-Word Title: Also a Portmantitle.
  • Our Banshees Are Louder: You can open a coffin which has a banshee fly out of it. It'll let out an ear-piercing scream, though you do survive it.
  • 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).
  • Portmantitle: Also a One-Word Title.
  • Press X to Die: The "Hit" command is useful in exactly one spot. Try it on a monster and it will get you killed.
  • Recycled Title: Beyond Shadowgate is the name of two separate sequels to the original game, with the second one being a Truer to the Text interpretation of the writer's design documents.
  • Red Herring: And how! Several items strewn around Castle Shadowgate are just time-wasters meant to clutter your inventory or even kill you for looking at them wrong; this also extends to the sequels, with Shadowgate 64 even offering a shop where Del can trade coins he has found for completely useless knick-knacks.
  • 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.
  • Riddling 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.)
  • Second-Person Narration: The game refers to all of the goings-on in the castle as if they're happening to you. The ending of the game shows that the player character is some sort of male knight, and putting on the cape also implies he's wearing armor. But even so, the game's narration only addresses the player character as if he's you.
  • Schmuck Bait: No shortage of this. Word to the wise: EXAMINE things before you take/use/etc. them.
  • Sdrawkcab Name: The "Epor" spell, used to make a rope magically stand up straight on its own.
  • Serpent Staff: The snake statue found in a cave is transformed into the Staff of Ages when you use the wand on it. Its appearance even has coils.
  • 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.
    • The remake also has a number of references to Peanuts, revolving around an encounter with the Great Pumpkin.
  • 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.
  • 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. Or you can look at the three mirrors, as the correct mirror has a different description from the other two.
  • Trick Arrow: The remake will have a goblin fire one at you if you get too close. It will miss, then turn around and strike an unprotected part of you, causing instant death. On the plus side, you can potentially get one if you deflect it with your shield, and much later in the game, use it against the werewolf.
  • Timed Mission: The limited amount of torches, though the NES version resets the torch light a bit when you respawn. 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: There are a couple cases where the hero is dumb of his own volition. For example, the player telling the hero to go down a well results in the hero diving head first — even if the rope is lowered for you to climb down!note 
  • 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.
  • Underground Monkey: In the original Mac version, the werewolf and the hellhound use the exact same sprite for the close-up as they kill you.
  • Unwinnable by Design: The original (not remake) home computer version has a number of situations where the game can be rendered impossible to complete:
    • Each spell can be used only once (unlike the console version and PC remake, where you can use a spell multiple times), and using the wrong spell at the wrong time can make the game unwinnable, as can using the Humana or Illumina spells to get past the troll or gargoyles respectively before you've gotten everything that you need to obtain.
    • If you try to deal with the wraith in anything but the correct way, it casts a curse upon you and disappears. Afterwards, a countdown starts, with the player character eventually dropping dead after moving between rooms a few dozen times — and considering how early in the game you encounter the wraith, you won't have any hope of getting far enough to finish your quest.
    • Trying to pay off the troll with copper coins during your first encounter with him. Unlike the NES (and GBC) version he doesn't spot that you're trying to fool him, but he does take the bridge away, making it impossible to access the rest of the castle.
    • Throwing any item into the oil after you extinguish the flames in the fire room will cause it to be permanently lost. The NES version will prevent you from throwing any plot-critical items in there, but the home computer version doesn't, making it possible to unknowingly throw away something essential to completing your quest.
    • It's possible to set fire to the bridge leading to the chamber that contains the Staff of Ages. Do so, and it's impossible to obtain the staff, and therefore defeat the Behemoth.
  • Useless Useful Non-Combat Abilities: The SPEAK function serves no uniquely useful purpose. Nothing you can talk to provides any helpful information (most entities can't even understand you to begin with), and the USE command also allows you to cast spells. One might think it's simply The Artifact in the more well-known NES port and it was required in the original Mac version, but no; SPEAK is just as unnecessary there, too.
  • Useless Useful Stealth: The "Humana" spell in the original version makes you invisible. Too bad it only works when crossing the troll bridge, and only if you just cross the bridge (if you attack the troll while invisible, he will SEE YOU and turn you into meatsauce). Every other enemy can still see you and kill you as if you never cast the spell at all. Because of this, the NES version turned it into a minor teleport spell that will only work in front of the troll bridge.
  • Violation of Common Sense: You can USE the sword or the spear on yourself... Which results in the hero killing himself. Goodness knows why you would want to do thatnote , but you can do it.
  • 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). In fairness, almost everything else in Castle Shadowgate tries to kill you, so by this point, the hero probably can't be blamed for shooting first and asking questions later.
  • Weapon Twirling In most cases when using a weapon on yourself, you just plain stab yourself. However, with the axe, you try to do some cool axe moves, but fail and somehow chop yourself in half.
  • What the Hell, Player?: Do some dumb action (like USE SELF or SPEAK SELF), and the game will reprimand you, saying "What odd behavior for such a brave warrior!!"
  • With This Herring: You enter Castle Shadowgate with merely a single torch and worthless armor. The remake is a little more generous giving you a dirk, which is WORTHLESS as weapon, but makes a decent tool.
  • 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.