Title  : Shadowgate 64: Trials of the Four Towers
Platforms  : Nintendo 64
Publisher  : Kemco
Game Rating  : 7.8
Review by  : Ken Gagne

The time of the good Lord Jair is long past. Evil has disappeared, as have that age's heroes and artifacts. The people have grown complacent, allowing a new evil to arise unchallenged… or is it? In the dungeon of the old Castle Shadowgate, now a den of thieves, rests the halfling Del. If he can survive the four tests of the ancient wizard Lakmir, he alone may save the land of Kal Torlin. Thus the stage is set for Shadowgate 64: Trials of the Four Towers, from Kemco. This trying new title will resurface memories, both pleasant and painful, for veteran players of the Shadowgate series. 

Like the recent Game Boy Color release of its ten-year-old predecessor, Shadowgate 64 is an entry in the endangered adventure genre, focusing on exploration and puzzle-solving, with minimal attention paid to thumb action and quick reflexes. Unlike the original Shadowgate and its two-dimensional, single-frame "rooms" and point-and-click interface, Shadowgate 64 scrolls through a large, three-dimensional world from a first-person perspective, ala Goldeneye. This fixes some problems, while introducing new ones. 

The new world to explore is more real and absorbing, allowing players to go almost anywhere they look and be able to see their surroundings fully. But the opportunity for items to be hidden, be they behind other items or with camouflage, is great. A large inventory must be collected to solve all the puzzles, and missing a single item can lead to hours of frustrating backtracking before progress can be made. There are also several books to find, requiring more reading than a subtitled Italian flick; pay attention, because there will be a test later. 

The interface is much simpler than the old days: 'A' button inspects what's before you, and 'B' brings up the inventory, with any selected item put to any possible, immediate effect. Movement is identical with Turok's setup, with the control stick controlling the view and the C-buttons directing movement. This configuration cannot be changed. Movement isn't as tight or responsive as Goldeneye, and diagonal movement is impossible. By neglecting a few basic features, Kemco has made the control a bit too simple. 

The graphics are dark and — a common ailment in N64 games — a bit washed out. There are no special lighting effects, or special effects at all. Despite this, the world looks like what one would expect of a fantasy land which has lost its hope and magic. Unfortunately, its inhabitants are caricatures of reality, moving stiffly, falsely, and constantly; fortunately, most interaction is with puzzles, not people. 

The music is medieval, changing often to set the current environment. The sound effects are minimal: unconvincing squeals and unsynchronized footsteps. 

Challenging? Yes. The puzzle solutions are more practical, though less magical, than the previous Shadowgate. Replay value? None. The game plays the same every time, with no room for deviation. It's fun once for about six hours, but that's the extent of it. 

Shadowgate 64 is a unique title in today's uninspired market. It corrects many problems with its ancestor, but has a few of its own. If you're looking for a Myst-like thinker, Shadowgate 64 will test both your wits and your patience.


This article is copyright (c) 1999, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 21-Jun-99