Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Matter of Import 60: Shadowfax [1982]


Shadowfax is a simple unlicensed Lord of the Rings arcade-style game released for the Commodore 64, Vic-20, and BBC Micro. The player takes the role of the wizard Gandalf riding Shadowfax, the Lord of all Horses, for whom the game is named.

The game is a very simple shooter - Shadowfax rides from the right against endless waves of Nazgul riding from the left, opposite the usual configuration. The Nazgul ride at different speeds but stay in their general row on the screen, while Gandalf can move left, right, up, and down.

A single touch is all it takes to end the game, as you only have one life, but there's no sense of progression other than your score and the game doesn't change as you play it so that's largely irrelevant.
A further twist comes from the way Gandalf shoots, firing lightning bolts that fly as long as you hold down the fire button, passing through targets harmlessly. When you release the button they explode, damaging foes they're in contact with. This takes a little getting used to, but is the only nuance the game has.

If you don't remember the above scenario from the books or movies - Gandalf riding into waves of Nazgul in a suicidal frontal assault, congrats, you remember Lord of the Rings. As a thematic wrapper for the unlicensed property Shadowfax uses it isn't the worst possible interpretation of Tolkein's work, though there are probably sequences more suited to the arcade treatment.

Visually the game isn't much to speak of - while the animation for the mounted gallop-cycle isn't bad, each sprite is single-colored, white for Gandalf and Shadowfax and black for the Nazgul. Add in the trees at the top and bottom of the screen and that's all there is in terms of visual presentation.

Overall the gameplay gets tedious fairly quickly, as there's no real change as you play, there's no sense of progress. Only endless Nazguls.

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