Version Reviewed: NES
Year Published: 1991
Kemco's NES adaptation of the PC point-and-click adventure classic, Shadowgate was one of my favorite games of the era. While it never got an NES sequel, I was ecstatic when I learned Uninvited was another game like it. (Yeah, so was the detective mystery game Deja Vu, but I wanted another magic-and-monsters adventure.) I remember having some difficulty locating a copy as 1991 was a late year for the NES - stores were stocking less in favor of the 16-bit consoles. When I finally managed to procure it, and then finished it a few hours later, I was left feeling disappointed. I never replayed it until years later when I originally reviewed it for this site, and I had no desire to do so again until now, when I finally decided to confront those feelings and determine what went wrong here.
As the story begins, you awaken inside your car which you had crashed moments earlier after swerving to avoid something in the road. Your sister had been with you, but she is now missing. Your first task is to exit the car before it explodes (those who tried starting the car in Deja Vu may notice a pattern here).
Before you looms a strange mansion with statues guarding the entrance and a letter in the mailbox that seems to be addressed to famous occultist Aleister Crowley. You believe this is where your sister probably went, so you enter the mansion and are promptly locked in with no way out. Of special note is that no gender or revealing details of any kind are given for your character, not even when looking at any of the mansion's mirrors, effectively making the character you, regardless of what you look like and whether or not you have a real-life sister.
Uninvited is so similar in many ways to Shadowgate, I considered the possibility that my disappointment was because this style of game is a one-trick pony - it could work on me once, but perhaps never again. The "been there, done that" feel is definitely present here, but I think it's something more.
The menu interface system has not only made no improvements over Shadowgate, but it's actually worse because (for whatever reason) the cursor and page turnover movement is much slower. It is one of the first things I noticed, and it makes no sense at all to me. The only way this could've been a design choice and not a mistake is if they wanted to artificially slow your progression. But that would only be necessary if this game was a lot easier or shorter than Shadowgate, right?
Right. That's part of the problem: The puzzles are either all ridiculously easy to figure out, or obscure to the point of "trying everything". I don't think anything quite qualifies as a Cat Hair Mustache Puzzle, but some, like the unorthodox use of a spider, are sure to roll some eyes.
Another way Uninvited pads its length is by having a staggering amount of useless items. Shadowgate had some, but the quantity here is beyond reasonable. Imagine if you played a modern hidden object game and kept literally everything you find in the HO scenes and had to figure out which ones actually do something. That's Uninvited. Oh, and there's even a useless spell.
While Uninvited does deliver on monsters and magic, Shadowgate had a vast amount of lore in its myriad descriptions, scrolls, and books. Although the game took place entirely in Castle Shadowgate, it gave a grand sense of everything beyond. But in Uninvited, even all these years later I still don't completely understand what is going on here. There are fewer riddles and mysteries and far more pop culture references.
The mansion was apparently inhabited by a wizard who was teaching magic to a student who turned on him. The student, Dracan, was using this magic to raise an army of undead, as evidenced by the decomposing zombies found throughout the house and the grounds beyond, including the infamous skeleton dressed like Scarlet O'Hara.
This is all fine and fair enough, even if I do have some questions about it (like, what other purpose could this magic have possibly had??), but then things get even weirder when you encounter a ghost that looks like Slimer from The Real Ghostbusters, a dancing lizard monster that desires cookies, and a bouncing disembodied red head with enormous lips. Again, Shadowgate's lore made it clear why dragons, trolls, werewolves, and wraiths exist. This, I'm not getting. And it leads me to a point...
One of Uninvited's puzzles involves an eagle, a snake, and a cat, and the correct solution ends in the cat being eaten by the snake. Oh, I get it, the cat (along with the eagle and/or the snake) would kill you if you made the wrong move here. I'm not buying it. I can deal with the zombies, the demon possessions, the giant spiders, and even the stuff that had been censored out of the Japanese version of the game, but this is where I draw the line. It was at this point that I realized Uninvited was aiming more at shock value and being weird than it was at being a coherent adventure game.
Strangely enough, the mansion has a series of paintings depicting an eagle, a snake, and then the eagle carrying away the snake, which makes that seem like the solution to the puzzle (though I suppose it would not have made reptile enthusiasts any happier). Considering it would've been used to chase a ball-like creature, my guess is that the cat was the original solution to the puzzle, and someone changed it to be edgier. (But they forgot to adjust the damn dialogue - upon examining the snake, it says the cat is full!)
I could continue on with comparisons to Shadowgate, like how the mansion is far less interesting to explore, and the scenery is far more drab (at best) and ugly (at worst). I could point out the final scene in Shadowgate culminates in using a magical weapon (which you spent the whole rest of the game finding and assembling) against the most powerful creature the world had ever known, but the villain in Uninvited is lying next to a hole and the solution is to throw him down the hole.
I could point out that picking up the Ruby gives you constant "Game Over's" every few screens, but I had no idea that's what was causing it so I suffered with it until the very end. (I have an early internet conversation burned into my memory in which someone who hadn't played the game insisted that this sounded "really cool". No, no it wasn't.) I could mention that the game won't let you drop items, even though two screens say you can. I could even lament that the soundtrack, despite being done by the same composer, was not as good, but perhaps this game just wasn't very inspiring.
I could keep going on, but let's face it. Uninvited just wasn't on the same level as Shadowgate. Maybe better than Deja Vu from what I've heard and played of it, but still a letdown in more ways than not. Perhaps that's why (unlike Shadowgate and Deja Vu), it never got any sequels.
Bonus Trivia: There was a 1987 horror movie called Uninvited that also involved a cat killing people. The original Mac version of Uninvited was released in 1986, a year before this movie. A part of me thinks it has to be coincidence, but I don't know why else a movie about a killer cat would be called "Uninvited", since you don't normally send invitations to cats and they are unlikely to respond if you do.
It's a point-and-click adventure game, which weren't very common on the NES. It has that novelty.
Monsters, magic, and sometimes fun death scenes. The closeup of the zombie's face is admittedly well done, even though the eyeball was censored.
If you like pop culture references, its has plenty from Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings, Night of the Living Dead, and "Cookie Monster", to Kemco's other NES titles.
Kitties being eaten by snakes is not a good scene for either cat or snake lovers.
Too many useless items and one that causes constant Game Over's, seemingly used to pad out the game length.
Dull scenery with a lot of gray.
Slow interface, no improvements over Shadowgate, and the game and story are a downgrade in many ways.