More than just a fortification of stone, Castle Shadowgate in the land of Kaltorin holds great mystical power. In times past, the Warlock Lord used that power to summon a demon in an attempt rule the world. Ultimately he was defeated by a young hero who became the first in the Line of Kings to watch over Shadowgate and guard its secrets.
Prince Erik, a long descendant of the original hero, has been world traveling and expanding his mind for the day when he will ascend the throne. In his 18th year, he receives word that his father, King Aaron has been assassinated.
Returning home, he is briefly reunited with his sister Elizabeth before Balazar, the King's advisor has him arrested. Balazar's men captured the assassin who claimed it was Prince Erik who hired him.
Erik must escape prison to protect his sister and solve his father's murder..
SAVE YOUR GAME! Never make a new move in this game without first saving it. There are more ways to die than to live. You are going to die often, there's no two ways about it.
Now that's out of the way, let me just say this game is a good time. ICOM spent a lot of effort hand painting tons of different environments to explore. It really takes you on an adventure the likes of which weren't found on 16-bit consoles. I prejudge games based on the company that makes them, and I never liked ICOM, but they got it right with Beyond Shadwogate and ShapeShifter.
Beyond Shadowgate mixes point-and-click with sidescrolling action. For puzzles, you have a command screen for look, use, talk and an inventory screen for the things you pick up. On top of this, you can also duck and punch so you'll have to do some button mashing as well as sitting and thinking.
All characters have multiple frames of animation, so it is fun to interact. There are multiple things you can do which affect gameplay. Experimenting to see what all you can do will reveal secrets, or new ways to die. For example, if you save an old woman who was yelling for help, she will sit you down and show you her family album. She'll keep yakking until you die of old age. Did I mention SAVE OFTEN?
Graphically this game is awesome. It puts the PC Engine's color palette to the test pulling of stuff that the Genesis or SNES couldn't have. The sheer number of different environments is enough to keep you moving, just to see where you'll end up next. The one drawback though is the use of “dither”. To get more gradients, dither alternates two colors in a pattern and it makes things look very grainy.
ICOM did a good job with audio here too. The midi orchestrations are well done, and there are lots of ambient or atmospheric audio tracks to set the mood. Most characters have spoken dialogue, which is done quite well. However, the voice of the hero is the same guy who voiced Lycos in Shapeshifter and it's just a poor choice for a leading role.
Like Loom, think of this as an interactive story. Unlike Loom where you can never die, in this game, it is hard to live. If you can get past that little frustration, it is a treat all Engine lovers should try.
W. Eric Myers
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