I've been a fan of adventure games since I can remember. When I was young, the concept of Dungeons & Dragons really struck me, but since I only knew a few kids willing to dive in with me, I didn't really get to play it the pen and paper classic all that often. Which led me to seek out video games with similar themes. I remember that scene in Big where Josh plays a computer game - it's Colossal Cave Adventure if I recall correctly - really made me wish I had such a game.
Some years later I obtained a copy of Maniac Mansion on NES and while it eschewed the mazes and monsters (if you haven't seen Mazes & Monsters, go watch it now!) and instead favored a kind of weirdo aliens and punk rock aesthetic, the hooks of adventure gaming were well within me. I'd go on to seek out other such classics - namely The Secret Of Monkey Island - and eventually many years later the works of Telltale games.
But all of this is just background. I've never REALLY played Shadowgate. I mean, I know I dabbled with my friend's copy on NES back in the day, but I don't remember getting too far. And having recently re-read my copy of HG101's guide to adventure games, I decided to snatch up a copy of the GBC port and finally rectify this. Also, I thought I should take a break from Dragon Quest XI after a nearly two week binge. What can I say, I like to keep things fresh.
Re-titled Shadowgate Classic, this GBC port is very similar to the version of Deja Vu we saw on GBC. It looks really good - much more colorful than the original NES version. And it sounds great - seriously, I went to bed with the low torchlight song in my head. The menus and navigation can take a little time to get used to on the cramped screen. But overall, it's a solid port and runs a little cheaper than the NES original.
That said, Shadowgate is also OLD SCHOOL. Like it comes from the game design philosophy of "just try everything until something works." Maybe partly this was to make up for how small the castle actually is. Sometimes things made sense, but sometimes I'd feel stuck. I feel no shame for consulting a walkthrough (often) throughout my play through. I suppose in my younger days of near unlimited time, I'd have relished spending a week with this game. But right now, I wanted more to experience the game which meant seeking out answers when I needed them.
And to be honest, there's some spots where this really saved my sanity. I wouldn't have guessed to pick up the shield in the dragon's room after he had killed me when I tried picking up the torch, and again when I tried picking up the spear. I'd have had no idea that after dropping the sphere into the lake to freeze it that I should drop a torch onto the ice to unfreeze the sphere so I could take it back. I'd have had no idea that only the spear could kill the troll - I'd probably have just assumed he was unkillable if I failed to kill him with my sword.
The spell system is equally confusing as there's no real description of the spells, so again you just need to TRY using them in random places or else have a guide at hand. And that last battle against the warlock is easy in execution, but I don't know how I'd have known to use the various items in my inventory on each other to make a special warlock killing staff. So again, just really old school design philosophy.
But none of these are COMPLAINTS really. Shadowgate is a pretty awesome game. The NES was home to some quality adventure games, and Shadowgate is up there (Maniac Mansion still rules though). I'm glad I got to experience it and actually see entirety of the castle. Good times.