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CONSOLE: Nintendo 64 DEVELOPER: Infinite Ventures PUBLISHER: Kemco
RELEASE DATE (NA): May 31, 1999 GENRE: Adventure
// review by SoyBomb

Trials of the Person Occasionally Trying to Stay Awake.

When you think of all the classic games on the Nintendo 64 console, what immediately comes to mind? For most people, the most popular come to mind: Super Mario 64, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Star Fox 64, Paper Mario, Castlevania... okay, maybe not quite that last one. But what of the unsung games? What of the ones that slipped through the cracks of the ever-churning commercial whirlpool. So I ask why is the game I am reviewing now not among the aforementioned list of classics? Maybe because its gameplay is not as gripping at that of the great platformers. Maybe it's because the excitement is not as outstanding as that other games. Maybe it's because I once saw it at the local Wal-Mart selling for a hefty price tag of $99.99. Maybe it's because Shadowgate 64: Trials of the Four Towers is perhaps the first N64 game to ever make me yawn semi-incessantly.

Yes, seriously, this game put me somewhat to sleep. That doesn't really happen too often. The only other times are if a) I am already tired beyond recognition of consciousness and start to play video games beyond the will of my internal clock; and b) if I have to spend several hours only leveling up my characters in an RPG where the battles start to become quite repetitive and unnerving (I believe early Dragon Warrior titles are a culprit of this indignity). But Shadowgate 64: Trials of the Four Towers fell victim to neither of these factors. Instead, I became fatigued simply because I did not know what to do at certain points, and the game certainly didn't point them out in a straightforward manner.

But that's the intention of the game, and that's only good for genuine geniuses. Let me elaborate a bit more; I think I am getting ahead of myself. Shadowgate 64 is an adventure game, along the same lines of the classic PC title, Myst. The same level of interactivity is there, as was the case for the original Shadowgate on the NES, though now we're in the third dimension (for the most part -- the introduction and conclusion were in 2D for some inexplicable reason) and there are far fewer torches to collect this time, thank goodness. There are no battles to undertake whatsoever, and much of the game lacks any sort of human interaction, giving a decidedly solitary tone to your secluded journey. Using the control stick, you can wander around wherever you please, provided any doors blocking your desired path are unblocked (and many are indeed initially impassable). Along the way, you can pick up items that may be useful on your travels, though some are definitely just there to fill up your character's inventory sack, which is unusually large and typical for a video game. In order to provide a bit more backstory, you can also pick up various letters, parchments, and tomes for extracurricular reading. Read them, and you might get some clues on what to do next.

You'll need all the help you can get wandering around the dismal Castle Shadowgate, figuring out what to do next. Some actions are practically self-explanatory, and you can easy follow the correct sequence. However, my issue is that there are certain points in the game where what you need to do next is so vague (or simply far too oblique to figure out without scrupulously examining all the possible clues, laying them out on scrap pieces of paper across the kitchen table, and moving them around frantically in hopes that the conclusion you seek will magically appear. It likely won't. On my run through this game, I had initially told myself, "Hey, I'm 25 years old. I'm not the dumbest man on the planet. I am going to try and solve all of Shadowgate's puzzles without the use of a walkthrough." For the first hour, everything was fine and dandy. I only had a few items to work with, and the places I could go were quite limited, so it was difficult to get myself lost. But once I had expended all my obvious options in the areas I could actually access, that's when the ennui sunk in. Suddenly, I found myself stuck within this limited area with no apparent way out. I found myself wandering back and forth, room by room, from the dank sewers from whence I came to the library in the first of the four towers, littered with crusty old tables, then on to the living quarters well-hidden behind a bookcase. Rinse. Repeat. This got old fast. Did I miss anything obvious? This I wondered.

Turned out I didn't miss anything obvious. I missed something obscure. I had no idea I had to lower a rope out a library window and blow the Pixy Flute to shrink myself so I could fit out the window and escape the tower. There was no direct indication that I could perform such an action. Maybe I should've read those tomes a little closer, then make a Venn diagram to determine what course of action to take. I really shouldn't have to, though. Or maybe I'm just not suited for these "thinking" games and should resort to something more up my alley, like scooping mystery solids out from betwixt my toes. Walking around for an hour in search of the key to progression was what put me to sleep. I didn't actually fall asleep, but I certainly sensed a drowsiness I haven't experienced since my last encounter with unpleasant allergy medicine. So yes, I had to check a walkthrough to figure out the answer to my query. But this was not the only part of the game that required me to do so, which means that, again, I did not think hard enough for them. I'm sorry, Shadowgate, I'm just not smart enough for your twisted game! Oftentimes, the only direction I truly had was into pits where I fell to my untimely death, a feat which can be performed many different ways, including falling into something, getting squeezed to death by someone, or by drinking something red that you shouldn't. That vial of Liquid Sunset was NOT for drinking, tempting though it was!

But it was not just the lack of direction that caused me to drift away into slumber. The environments had the same effect. Most parts of the game are brown, with hints of colour draped about in a scroogely fashion. The sewer area is mostly deep brown; the inside of the first castle is largely brown; the outside areas are splashed with a nasty brown and gray coating as well. Dirty though it sounds, it's hardly as thrilling. Your surroundings don't even reek of much detail, though I've seen far worse. The only thing visually that kept me alert were the actual people you could talk to, although many of them ramble on for ages and tried to convert me into a comatose gamer. It's their faces -- most of them are among the ugliest people I've seen on the console. You spot them from afar and think they could be human. And then you approach them and they turn into B-movie monsters before your very eyes. This is horrific, and I am scared. But I sadly cannot flee until they plead their long tales of woe. THEN I flee. Fleeing is fun. The only decent looking person is the wizard, Lakmir, who pops up as an apparition and gives me a short speech about being the Chosen One and nonsensical ramblings of completing trials. (By the way, there weren't any official "trials" in all four towers, unless you consider figuring out how to get out of the first one as a "trial". I don't. I consider it cruel and unusual punishment.) If there is one thing that I did enjoy, it would be the music. Sound effects, there isn't much to say along this line. However, the music was definitely a nice highlight. Typically not trying to dominate the foreground, most tunes had a charm that made the so-called journey a bit more enjoyable. The theme of the cathedral and of the upstairs of the initial tower rank among the best of the bunch.

But my journey was not entirely without merit. I had fun for a weekend, provided I had my laptop open in front of me and I could check the walkthrough if a wave of irritability flashed before my eyes. Shadowgate 64: Trials of the Four Towers, aside from being a inappropriately-worded title, is definitely one for people to check out if they like adventure-type games that require more brain power than fire power. I found it for a good price and I'm happy to have this more obscure Nintendo 64 title sit in my game library. If you're seeking a timeless masterpiece, it might be a good idea to look elsewhere, but for a quick fix, this could be the answer to your prayers if you're still playing the Nintendo 64. However, if you need one more incentive, get this game just to hear your character's shrieking sound byte. That's too priceless to avoid.

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