Top 100 NES Review: # 26 – Shadowgate (1989)

Who Knew That Pointing and Clicking Could Be So Hard?

And don’t even get me started on the goddamn torches.

Sydlexia’s Ranking: #26/100
My Rating: cropped-star.jpgcropped-star.jpg

I broke every personal rule of gaming with this one. I mean I had to. I HAD TO. Instead of my usual self-resilience that is okay with fruitless meandering, I broke down (using the official guide book no less). This game is a nightmare on an exponential scale. With several commands and a never ending supply of items, what was once 8 or 12 variables quickly balloons to the hundreds.

I really wanted to like this game, however I feel like it misses the mark on something so crucial: intuition. Many of the puzzles don’t make sense and can only be solved with an iron resolve of testing every possible combination of commands. Instead of a free flowing interaction between logic and puzzles, you become a robot using the rote algorithm of testing one item with every command on every object before moving onto the next item to repeat. Instead of trying to solve puzzles by thinking through it, you grind away.

The final straw was what can only be considered malevolence. The game has a very rigid point-and-click style…until it doesn’t. These hacks both in and off the GUI devastate the spirit: what’s the point of trying to figure anything out if the game requires an off-scheduled play?


You Opened Up the Door to…FRUSTRATION.


Originally a Mac computer game, Shadowgate was ported to the NES with only a few changes. They changed the save function to be less harsh, made select a hint button, and rearranged the graphics. The game is your standard point & click adventure where you use commands in rooms to collect items and solve puzzles.

The game starts outside of the castle Shadowgate with these words:

“The last thing that you remember is standing before the wizard Lakmir as he gestured wildly and chanted in an archaic tongue. Now you find yourself staring at an entryway which lies at the edge of a forest. The Druid’s words still ring in your ears: “Within the walls of the Castle Shadowgate lies your quest. If the prophecies hold true, the dreaded Warlock Lord will use his dark magic to raise the Behemoth, the deadliest of the Titans, from the depths of the earth. You are the seed of prophecy, the last of the line of kings, and only you can stop the Warlock Lord from darkening our world FOREVER. Fare thee well.”

Your inner thoughts.

In my case, the world was forever darkened.

I Hate It When That Happens.


Where to start? TORCHES!!!!!!! 🔥🔥 !!!!!!

Let There Be Light.

I know there was pressure in the 80s to stretch out gameplay with dubious game mechanics because of limited cartridge space. I would never expect a floppy disk to hold the sum of all the world’s entertainment, however there is a continuum of tedious. This game doesn’t doesn’t eschew tedium; it embraces it with TORCH-MANAGEMENT.

Scattered throughout the castle are torches. These perform the standard task of illuminating the area. They are limited in supply. When your torch goes out, you die. Instantly. When you restart, you only have one torch and torches do not regenerate. So while the game allows you to restart where you were left off, you are immediately under a time crunch.

This just sucks the air out of the room. The game is PREDICATED on exploration and figuring out puzzles. Now with an arbitrary time limit, you are punished for EXPLORATION and FIGURING OUT PUZZLES.

I unfortunately emptied a coffin full of acid onto the floor. Attempting to proceed to the next room only led to a quick death due to disintegration. There is a way to walk around, but it takes going through several rooms. This led to me dying due to lack of torches, having to restart, continuing my quest, dying because of torches, and then repeating. I decided to see if I could burn the acid up with my torch, so I wouldn’t die because of lack of torches. Yikes! Bad mistake. It put out my torch which made me instantly die.

So even when I don’t die of torches, I die of torches 🔥 🔥🔥🔥

You would think I would be focused on that dragon in the far enclave but I really have my eye on that god damn torch!

For Just Three Easy Payments.

Due to being stuck because of torches, I decided to look at the original manual remembering how NES games threw all sorts of goodies into those things. There, I found an interesting little advertisement:

Thankfully with the internet, I didn’t have to pay $5.95 nor wait 4-6 weeks for delivery of my cheat book. This book is something of a masterpiece. It provides hints on three levels: no help, very little help, and here is the whole freakin’ answer. These levels correspond to A, B, and C so you can decide how much help you need. Take for instance this little tidbit:

Wanting to know the answer, I immediately went to C:

Well that was easy, except this brings up a MAJOR problem.

Going Off Script.

That’s not at all how the MOVE command worked! From the get go, you pressed the move command and hit little boxes on the map to move between areas. It never insinuated you could move within the same room into these “hidden” passages.

That’s not solving a puzzle; that’s bullshit.

The game doesn’t stop there. For your ever important torch-management, the game shows you how much light you have with two icons in your inventory. However, you can actually click on those torches and light other items on you inventory on fire — including yourself (which after playing this game, self-immolation doesn’t seem too bad).

How are you supposed to enjoy the journey if you aren’t even allowed to know the rules? If anything is possible at any moment, then there isn’t any context to solve puzzles.

I’m Actually Quite Happy It’s Over Mr. Reaper.


I would prefer to spend my time digging through trash cans collecting soda cans to recycle for small sums of money.

Other People’s Takes

  • Hoz’s 8-Bit NES Quest: “I could only walk around in a circle so many times before I started to go crazy.”
  • Kainentertainment: “Death is something you’ll get used to a lot in these games as they involve a lot of trial and error.”
  • Beyond the Protodome: “If you love RPGs and dungeon crawlers, you’ll love exploring every inch of the castle. Overall, it is a great NES game, worthy a place in anyone’s collection.”

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