Shadowgate Classic review
Shadowgate Classic for cell phones pairs an ancient adventure title with the latest must-have pocket gadget. Could this be the chocolate that the cell phone peanut butter has been waiting for? On the plus side, the game has been freshened up with new puzzles, and now travels anywhere you go. On the downside, the interface is awkward, the game is sluggish, and the atmosphere is threadbare. I think it is great that Vindigo (a mobile media company) and Infinite Ventures (software developers and game licensors) are making adventure games available for cell phones. I am just not sure that this title puts the genre's best foot forward.
Shadowgate is like kudzu. The game, originally developed by ICOM Simulations, first appeared on the Mac and PC in 1987, and quickly spread to the Amiga, Atari ST, and NES. It even wrapped its tendrils around the Game Boy Color, and more recently, it has spread to the PocketPC and Palm OS. So it should be no surprise that it is now being released for mobile phones. This is all well and good, but like kudzu, there is a problem. Porting the game over and over has starved the creativity and life out of this title.
I'd like to say that this was my first time playing Shadowgate, but some nagging déjà vu tells me I have played it before. Shadowgate is a fantasy Dungeons and Dragons-type game, involving druids, spells, and dragons, which has been done to death in RPGs, if not adventures. The goal of the game is to stop the evil warlock from completing his spell and taking over the world. To do this, you must wander around a castle solving puzzles and finding pieces of a weapon called the staff of ages. Frodo calling Gary Gygax, "Who misplaced the +7 ring of originality?" This game might have been original in 1987, but 18 years later seems very dated. However, fans of Shadowgate Classic from other platforms may enjoy the nostalgia. And although the interiors of Castle Shadowgate are pretty much the same, the game has been freshened up with approximately 50% new puzzles.
Unfortunately, some of the biggest problems of Shadowgate Classic for cell phones are with the cell phones themselves. I believe that a good adventure game should be an immersive experience. When I play a great game hours literally disappear, and when I'm away, I can't wait to get back to the game world. The cell phone makes this difficult, having neither the screen size nor the processing power to immerse as fully as a PC game. It does have the advantage of going anywhere, however, and I did spend considerable time playing this game on the, well, uh, err, while taking care of other important matters.
There are a few other problems with cell phones and adventure games. Phones don't have mice (although some models are starting to have touch screens), and they don't have much storage space. Using the cursor keys to search the screen for items in Shadowgate is painful. A nice addition would be faster scrolling the longer the key has been held down. The lack of screen size means that the game commands are all on popup menus, although there are numeric shortcuts. For example, a typical sequence involves scrolling to a door with cursor keys, clicking on the door which pops up a menu, scrolling down to the Open command, clicking OK, clicking on the door again which pops up a menu, scrolling down to Go, and clicking OK again. Another major annoyance is that you can't exit a room the same way you entered without bringing up an Exits Map screen, which shows all of the room exits, but means more scrolling to get to the bottom exit. It would be much easier if they just included an exit icon at the bottom of the main screen. Although I didn't use the numeric shortcuts to start with, I soon learned them to avoid all the extra scrolling and clicking on the popup menus.
Another issue has to do with the game size. If your phone's screen is 128 pixels wide, the full game is a megabyte. If your phone's screen is 176 pixels wide, the game is well over a megabyte. This is much larger than the typical mobile game (200 to 300k). So instead of being able to download the entire game to your phone, you just download pieces, and the rest of the game is downloaded on demand. This causes two problems. The first is that you can't play the game if you are out of range, and the second is that the game is slow, especially when moving through many rooms, or when dying, which unfortunately happens frequently.
Shadowgate is a turn-based "timed" adventure. You only have a certain number of turns before the Warlock finishes his spell and destroys the world. You also have torches that you must collect and keep lit or you die. Torches stay lit for 40 game turns. You have three turns after a torch flickers to light a new one, or things go dark and you trip and break your neck. Perhaps due to this being a port of the Game Boy version of this game, there are only three saved game slots, and due to the time limits and dying often, you have to manage saved games carefully. I had to restart the game from the beginning after I realized these limits. Increasing the number of saved game slots would help.
The puzzles in Shadowgate Classic for mobile phones are a mixed bag. Most are fairly easy, involving inventory. But some are quite difficult, involving levers which affect other rooms, using items on yourself, and hunting for items on the screen. I found myself often repeating the age old adventure gamer's trick of trying every item in every location. This is really hard using the menus, so I began using the number pad shortcuts extensively. Most of the items and locations you find are used in Shadowgate, but on occasion, frustrated gamers might bash their heads against the wall trying to open a door that was never meant to open. Shadowgate features over 40 rooms to explore, and took me about 30 hours to solve. There is a help system included in the game, but its cryptic hints may still send you scrambling for the Shadowgate Classic walkthrough (tailored specifically for the mobile phone version) if you get stuck.
Technically, Shadowgate Classic is competent but not ambitious. The graphics are first-person, two dimensional drawings, but do have some minimal animations. The sounds grow old very quickly, but thankfully only play at the start and end of the game, and can be muted.
It is a little confusing, but to use Shadowgate on your cell phone, you need the right type of phone and the game has to be available through your service provider. The game has first been released on the BREW platform, and supports only 21 phone models, including some models from Audiovox, Kyocera, LG, Motorola, and Samsung. It is available for Verizon and Western Wireless customers now (who have supported phones), and should be available through more providers soon. However, Shadowgate will be released for the J2ME platform this summer, which should support many more phones. To see if your phone and provider are supported, check out Vindigo’s Shadowgate page.
In summary, Shadowgate Classic for cell phones is a competent port of an old adventure title. The game is not spectacular, especially by today's gaming standards, but has some nostalgia value and offers plenty of game time. However, the limitations of the cell phone platform make gaming difficult, and Shadowgate does little to minimize its inefficiencies, making the entire experience more frustrating than it should. It is nice to see adventures on cell phones. But this game, at least, is not the chocolate the cell phone peanut butter has been waiting for.
If you have the right equipment and provider, and you need an adventure-to-go at all times, this might be a title for you. Otherwise, there isn't a whole lot here to recommend.