One of my favorite science fiction novels is the 1960 masterpiece Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys. In it, humans find an alien artifact on the moon that is 100% lethal to everyone who enters it, although each one gets a bit farther than the previous one. After running out of volunteers, their solution is to repeatedly clone one brave explorer and beam them to the moon one-at-a-time to explore the artifact. Back on Earth, the original experiences everything his doppelgangers experience, including their inevitable grisly deaths. Over and over and over. This is what playing Shadowgate feels like.
Shadowgate for iPad is a faithful remake of the original 1987 first-person adventure game of the same name. This is not a game for those with more modern and refined sensibilities. As I alluded to earlier, you will die many times while playing Shadowgate. You will open something you shouldn't open, wander where you shouldn't wander, or simply take too much time to complete the adventure. There won't be any warnings, clues, or signs that what you about to do is lethal, but your make no mistake: death is inevitable, unavoidable, and, yes, completely unfair. If this doesn't sound like fun, you've never played any of the more famous platformers. In those, you experiment, explore, and often die in an effort to get every coin and find every secret. And, similar to the character in the novel I mentioned in the first paragraph, each time you play, you will get a bit farther until one day you will have the entire level mastered. Welcome to old-school adventure gaming. To minimize the sting of death, you are allowed to save your game whenever you like. All of these saves will be time-stamped, and I recommend you save as many as are allowed in case you destroy something necessary to complete the game (yes, that's possible) and need to backtrack a bit. Death and rebirth are as simple as enduring a somewhat tedious death screen and then reloading right where you were before you were blasted out of your flip-flops by dragon fire. There are spells to learn, objects to collect, and puzzles to solve. Use the correct object/spell at the correct time, and solve the necessary puzzles and you will eventually make it out alive. Once you do so, you are invited to replay the game on the hardcore setting (permadeath) to see if you can make it through the whole game without dying. There are also additional difficulty settings in between novice and hardcore that can ramp up the challenge in a variety of ways other than permadeath or a shorter time limit. Even at its easiest setting, death will come early and often for the unfamiliar so don't expect a typical iOS hidden object adventure experience. While those often feel like a good beach book (distracting, yet relaxing), Shadowgate is classic hardcore adventure gaming; except for the much welcome open game-save system.
Fortunately, the graphics have received a substantial facelift, as has the interface. When you arrive at a new area tap the lightning bolt button to reveal everything in the room that can be interacted with (or go hardcore and just figure it out for yourself). When you tap on something you will trigger a wheel of interactive options such as open, use, hit, walk, etc. Choose the one you want, and if you're still alive, keep going and keep saving. I did, however, find the interface a bit sluggish, particularly when reading descriptive text. When the text was too long to fit on one screen, the entire game becomes unresponsive until you tap the tiny arrow to read the rest of it. I found that feature in particular, super irritating. To be clear, I'm not referring to a pop-up window that blocks the entire screen. I'm talking about the tiny window at the bottom of the HUD that provides info as you play.
If you enjoy first-person adventure games, and enjoy a challenge, Shadowgate is your cup of tea. If you prefer your adventuring a bit lighter, less stressful, and more forgiving, you will be better off looking elsewhere.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 4 - Graphics are beautiful, but minimally animated. Sound: - 4 - The music is fantastic but the sound effects are nothing to grab your headphones for. Controls: - 4 - A well-organized interface that can feel sluggish at times. Gameplay: - 5/2 - I hate splitting this score, but I have to in this case. If you love old school adventuring, you are in for a treat. If you are a contemporary adventure gamer, you will likely be frustrated and irritated by its unforgiving design.
Playing Hints and Tips:
Save your game early, and often. Don't always take the skull's advice; at least without taking care to observe the previous hint. Get creative with your inventory. Some of the solutions are pretty nebulous. Collect all torches. Don't let your torch go out! Use an unlit torch from your inventory to light a new one at the last possible moment before it sputters out.