Monday, October 21, 2013

"Shadowgate", NES, 1989.

Deadliness can, in a pinch, pass for horrificity. This is a fear-emphasizing ad for a fundamentally stock fantasy dungeon romp with slightly more lethal traps than most. Icom (not that you can see their name here, buried beneath NES porters / publishers Kemco - Seika -- it's in the small print at the bottom) made a horror-themed game, Uninvited, which also made it to the NES, but for whatever reason they felt this angle would sell better here than an invocation of yet another journey to Ye Old Englande Tymes.

"YOU STAND AT THE EDGE OF A DEEP CHASM. FROM THE DARKNESS BELOW RISE THE SCREAMS OF THE UNDEAD."

Can you outwit and overcome the thoroughly-evil Warlock Lord? His mysterious spell holds Castle Shadowgate captive. Dozens of hidden pitfalls and nasty entities lurk in every corner.

Probe along menacing stone corridors looking for hidden passageways. Discover mysterious artifacts in dark chambers. Clues are there for those bold enough, and wise enough. Torches. Keys. Gemstones.

Slay a dragon, cross a river of fire.

But be careful. A wrong move could bring your quest to an untimely end.

A whole world of options are at your command with dynamic graphics to bring the dark mysteries of the Middle Ages to life.

The question is... are you up to the challenge of Castle Shadowgate?

...I've just got to come out and applaud their genius ad artwork here. This is an inspired piece, not derived from box art for any version of the game. The duelling green/purple illumination, the player photographically inserted into the scenario (usually a terrible idea), with NES joypad cord trailing off into the undead-filled chasm and off the edge of the ad... It's all very classy. Not the most representative of the actual game, but torches do figure prominently in it. The fourth sentence is the operational one: dozens of hidden pitfalls and nasty entities lurk in every corner. If you could boil down this ad copy to one sentence, that's the one that would sum up the game best. (Second up, that one about a wrong move leading to an untimely end.) But they feel they've got to ice the cake a bit. How often are players invited to probe? I don't believe the dragon is slayable.

A whole world of options? The screenshots list 8, which is, well, less than Maniac Mansion but more than Sam & Max Hit the Road. By "dynamic graphics" I gather they mean when the player picks the key off the floor, the sprite of the key is removed from the depiction of the room, which is, y'know, a step up from Psycho and Mystery House. The dark mysteries of the Middle Ages? Have Kemco made the mistake of deciding that because this game takes place in Olde Fantasy Tymes, it's actually a chapter of genuine Earth history? This is much closer to Lord of the Rings than Domesday Book. Let's us not muddy the waters here by suggesting that there's some educational historical aspect to this game. If there's any suggestion that it takes place on Earth (as do all of Icom's other Mac-Ventures, elapsing roughly in the present day), I believe the sequels to Shadowgate put that lie to rest. (Ah, thank you Wikipedia: 'Shadowgate takes place on the fictional planet of "Tyragon" where creatures from fantasy and myth live. In the land of "Kal Zathynn", on top of "Gatekeeper Mountain", is the living castle of "Shadowgate"')