Gauntlet has been around for quite a while now, and my first experience with the series was Gauntlet Legends on N64. I would spend countless hours with my friends and family fighting through the horde to find all the runes and save the day. We yelled at each other when there was only one of us left standing, and there was always a victory cry as we finished each stage and our scores were tallied before us. As I booted up the new iteration from Arrowhead, waves of memories came flooding back as enemies sought out to destroy me and my companions, just as they did so many years ago. One thing was certain the entire time I was playing: this was definitely Gauntlet, and it was definitely still fun.
The four classic classes are back: Warrior, Valkyrie, Elf, and Wizard. The Elf acts like a twin-stick shooter utilizing a sniper shot, roll, bomb and rapid fire. One very nice feature to note here is the physics; arrows fly further if you have a vantage point so don’t forget to utilize stairs! The Warrior and Valkyrie both function similarly in terms of controls with face buttons busting out different attacks, but while the Valkyrie hides behind her shield, the Warrior spins his way through enemies. There’s a nice dichotomy here, and the two melee classes play very differently indeed. As for the Wizard, he is easy to use but hard to master. Players can choose spells using the face buttons to input different combinations for different effects. All the heroes are fun to play, and the tutorial at the start allows you to try all four before advancing further. Whatever your play style, Gauntlet has a class for you.
A lot of core mechanics remained the same, and this is absolutely not a complaint. Gauntlet revolves around killing enemies, eating food, unlocking doors, and grabbing treasure. Gold is shared, but there is still that great battle to collect and kill the most on each floor. Every action you do seems to be counted into a set of stats that eventually grant you bonuses. We had a pretty fun time laughing at all the food my friend was accidentally destroying as a wizard, only to find that there were stats and bonuses for that too! It really gives the whole game a nice sense of progression, where it is based more on a user’s actions as opposed to just gathering experience and unlocking what you want.
The story completion feels similar to past titles: clear four chapters, fight a boss, move on to the next act. Each chapter has a series of floors except for the boss fight. You can always go back and replay levels, wrecking previously tough enemies with your more powerful character. Between chapters you are sent back to the hub world where you can purchase or upgrade relics. Remember potions? Well they’re back but act a bit differently. Pressing the left or right bumper drinks a potion and activates a relic for a short period of time. These range from speed and damage bonuses, to being able to summon a gargoyle to help with the fight. There are gear upgrades as well, which are unlocked by completing acts on higher difficulties.
Actions all have a noticeable visual cue, and the designers and artists did a nice job of giving the player feedback that is so sorely needed in this sort of game. I never died from an exploding barrel, and traps were very readily apparent. Because of this, each death felt entirely like it was my own fault and not just a cheap shot. All of the art stands out, and the game is lit in just the right way to give it that dark and brooding feel that accompanies the franchise.
The heroes themselves look great. The models fit perfectly, with scarred and grizzled faces that really sell the atmosphere. Unfortunately, they don’t really evolve much visually aside from the gear upgrades. A little bit more customization would be nice. For example, there are no colour schemes to choose from, and eventually everyone will just have the same end-game equipment. The classes themselves do feel quite unique though, especially the Wizard with all his different spells.
Probably my biggest gripe with the game was the number of bugs we encountered. These ranged from being stuck behind a door, to the end-screen not generating the stats and gold bars. They were usually just minor annoyances, but happened just a bit too frequently. All tended to be forgotten however as soon as the next floor would begin and enemies were chasing after us.
The sounds of Gauntlet are satisfying for the most part, but there was one thing that disappointed me to no end: it seemed that the narrator had taken over for the characters to tell the player when they were hurt, but that was one of the best parts of Legends! Hearing my mighty warrior pick up a drumstick and proclaim that “food is good!” is a highlight of my own childhood, and will never be forgotten. The narrator is great and has always been a big part of Gauntlet, but this is just one small job I personally wish he hadn’t taken up. Aside from that, the music and effects fit well and don’t detract from the experience, but they also didn’t exactly stand out to me either.
Overall, Gauntlet was a lot of fun but it still felt like something was missing. Granted it was reminiscent of my own past experiences with the franchise but playing with friends over Skype and Steam wasn’t quite the same as hanging out in the living room with four controllers plugged into one console. That said it still evoked the same thrills and competitiveness as before. We fought for treasure, battled for screen control, and raced for crowns and keys. If you have some friends that love to crawl through dungeons or you just want to relive some memories from the past, I’d definitely suggest grabbing a copy or splitting a 4-pack and going on an adventure sometime soon.