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Shadowgate 64: Trials of the Four Towers (N64)

Shadowgate 64 is really either the type of game you love or you hate. There isnít too much middle ground on the matter. In the first ten minutes of playing, youíre probably going to decide one of two things. youíre either going to decide itís the most boring thing youíve ever played, and that youíd rather go do something you thought was more interesting, like read the dictionary or watch grass grow or something. Thatís a distinct possibility. The other possibility is, you might decide itís one of the most wonderful games youíve ever played, and wish it would never have to end. That said, while you could decide that with only a few minutes of play, youíre probably reading this review not having the game, and not wanting to go out and spend the money if you donít have to, and are wanting an explanation of what the game is about and what itís like, so you can make that decision before instead of after.

At the start of the game is a little movie, with you riding along on a caravan when all of a sudden itís attacked, youíre captured, and tossed into a dungeon. Youíll find out a bit more about why that happened later in the game, itís not as if some people were just randomly looking for someone to toss in a dungeon, but for now thatís where youíll find yourself. When you assume control of your character, youíll find yourself in first-person view, and thatís where everything you do in the game will take place. The control stick adjusts your view, and the C buttons cause you to walk. It works very well, allowing you to fully explore every crack and crevice you come across. Progressing in the game is a fairly simple matter. You just have to pick up every single item you can find, and figure out where itís used. Well, itís more than that really, but, thatís a condensed version. Obviously you make your way out of the jail cell you start in (wouldnít make for much of a game if you were stuck in a box the entire time). Youíll be making your way through hallways, towers, outside and through towns, exploring, finding items, talking to people, discovering clues as to where you are and what you have to do.

Shadowgate 64, being the sequel to Shadowgate for NES, does rely fairly heavily on the background story laid out in the game. If you havenít played Shadowgate for NES, youíll initially find yourself feeling a bit confused at some point. There are a number of books scattered around which you can find and read, which will reveal much of what you wouldíve found out from having played that game though, so, in the end you will get most everything you wouldíve either way. If you have played Shadowgate for NES however, youíll immediately find yourself in a world and a situation youíre familiar with, but with a whole new story to experience. The books you will find also contain much new information even to someone who is familiar with the Shadowgate world, and things will open up before you. Needless to say, there is a significant amount of reading that goes on in this game. While you donít actually need to find or read any of the books in order to complete the game, if you donít youíll be missing out on a large part of the story, and find yourself confused at many points. So, if youíre not fond of reading, youíre probably not going to enjoy your experience in the game too much.

Further elaborating on the gameplay, it should be made clear that, really, exploring and finding items is all there is. There are no enemies in the game. None. (Well, one or two small things that one could view as an enemy, but, all you have to do to get rid of them is to solve a puzzle or such, thereís no actual combat). There is one maze where youíre timed and will have to pick up your pace going through it, and one or two areas where youíll have to do a bit of sneaking around to make sure you arenít seen. Other than that though, the game progresses at your own pace, with you having as much time as you need to look fully around every room you come across, stop, backtrack, explore, wander, anything you want. Now, at this point, itís possible youíre asking yourself what the point of the game is then, if there are no enemies and essentially no skill/dexterity-based areas. Well, the point of the game is simply, to explore, and to figure out how to continue. Thatís all. Nothing more, nothing hidden, what you see is what you get. So, if that doesnít appeal to you, you could probably just stop reading the review at this point, there really isnít anything thatís going to be said from here on down thatís going to change your mind. If the core gameplay doesnít appeal to you, thereís not much hope of you enjoying the game. Thereís nothing wrong with that, as I said initially, thatís a perfectly acceptable response.

Moving on from here though, weíll be going with the assumption that the core gameplay does appeal to you, or at least that youíre interested enough to hear more. If youíve played graphical adventure games in the past, this is essentially along those lines. Like the original Shadowgate, but in 3D with you having complete freedom to move around and explore everywhere. Youíll find dozens of items, most of which youíll be using at least one place or another, and some more. Youíll come across clues in books or from talking to people you run into while walking around. Most everything has at least some sort of logical basis behind it, thereís very little trial-and-error that youíll have to go through. While your entire adventure takes place within the walls of the Castle Shadowgate, youíll still be exploring a decent variety of areas, from the tops of towers and the bottoms of dungeons, to wandering through the town within the castle, or through a graveyard or a park. The graphics in the game really are excellent, while youíre not going to have any fancy flashy movies or anything, everything in the game really looks excellent, exactly like you would imagine it to look. A few of the people you talk to will look slightly blocky or stilted when they move, but really, thatís only a very minor thing. Graphically, the game really is just as it should be. Background music isnít anything overpowering, itís just a sort of subtle thing that stays in the background. There are a number of different ones that youíll hear however, all fitting the moods of the areas very well. There are also a number of sound effects, from you hitting a wall, metal hitting against rock, water dripping, and all of the other small details.

If youíre playing through the game for the first time and donít know any of the solutions to the things youíll run into, it will probably take you about 8-10 hours to go through the game. If you play it immediately after playing through it, so everything is still fresh in your mind, you can probably breeze through the game in around 4-5 hours. Unless you have a photographic memory however, if you leave a few months in between your playing of the game, itís really almost like a new experience each time through. While youíll probably remember things as you come up to them, itíll probably still take around 7-8 hours. It really is a game to play through often, either every few months so you feel like itís almost new again, or even if you want to play it more often, just to go through it, explore and wander, and experience everything. It really is a very enjoyable game, and if it is the type of game that appeals to you, itís likely going to be something youíll love.

Gameplay: 10/10
Graphics/Sound: 9/10
Story: 10/10
Length/Replay: 9/10
Overall: 10/10