Thursday, April 1, 2010

Beyond Shadowgate

ICOM Simulations - 1993 - U.S.A.
Super CD-ROM

Beyond Shadowgate sucked me in right from the get go. My first time with the game I remember being extremely taken with the hand painted backdrops and the immersing audio. Playing through again for this review, I found things were even better than I remembered them.

A product from the incredibly talented team over at ICOM Simulations, Beyond Shadowgate is the second game in the Shadowgate series. Preceded by the classic Shadowgate that debuted on vintage Apple computers or perhaps more famously, the NES, I played through all three games including the classic-that-wasn’t finale Shadowgate 64 to get a better perspective on things. Beyond Shadowgate takes place a few generations after the final events in Shadowgate and stars a Prince Erik determined to expose the truth behind his father’s murder. His young sister is kidnapped in the process by a man who intends to sacrifice her in order to revive the evil Warlock Lord. It’s up to you to stop him.

Unlike its predecessor and successor, Beyond Shadowgate plays like a more or less non-linear adventure in the King’s Quest style. According to Dave Marsh (of ICOM Simulations), a Mac/PC port of Beyond Shadowgate was in development even before work began on the Turbo version. The Turbo version was ultimately based on the unreleased PC game, and as such the gameplay in Beyond Shadowgate seems almost tailor-made for a mouse. Oddly enough, the game is not compatible with the PCE mouse that already existed for the console at the time of the game’s release.

I already mentioned Beyond Shadowgate’s amazing visual presentation. The artists obviously spent a decent chunk of time on these, and it shows. Every single scene is a hand painted masterpiece that really sets Beyond Shadowgate apart from its peers. Like the first adventure, you’ll encounter plenty of strange creatures along the way. Creature design follows the precedent set by the background art-- which is to say, fantastic.

Deal with these guys swiftly or they'll deal with you.

This guy's a classic.

A common complaint about Beyond Shadowgate is the speed (or lack thereof) at which Prince Erik plods along. Personally, I find his pace a perfect fit for the game. When a game looks and sounds this good, the extra couple seconds it takes me to go from one scene to the next is less a detriment than it is a chance to revel in the game's spectacular environments. If you’re the kind of person that digs games like King’s Quest or Loom, you’ll feel right at home with the gameplay here. That said, BS is best played with a three button controller since it heavily utilizes Button III for item/icon selection. Without one, you’ll be stuck using SELECT for this stuff.

One of the strengths of the Shadowgate series is each game’s ability to create a unique atmosphere while simultaneously maintaining an air of familiarity. Beyond Shadowgate is no different, and one of its best assets is the successful melding of top-notch audio to accompany the visuals. Whether it be subtle wind blowing as you venture up icy mountain ledges, or a pleasant tune accompanied by the sounds of wildlife as you explore a forest, if you’re like me you’ll find yourself getting chills as you play.

Some fans of the TurboGrafx/PC Engine go to great lengths to pan the domestic library at every opportunity, claiming the only titles worth playing were released in Japan. Well, Beyond Shadowgate wasn’t released in Japan and it’s one of the best games on the system. I’d go so far to say must-own if it wasn’t so pricey. Like so many other US titles Beyond Shadowgate often sells for way too much. Unlike many of said titles, BS is actually usually worth it.

Failure has its consequences.

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