Memorable fantasy arcade dungeon crawling with solid four player co-op.
The heroes Thyra the Valkyrie, Thor the Warrior, Questor the Elf and Merlin the Wizard enter a huge unknown dungeon in a quest for conquest. The dangerous labyrinthine halls are filled with all sorts of monsters, traps, sorcery and wondrous treasures.
Gauntlet is one of the first games to bring dungeon crawling, monster hunting, character building, treasure collecting and bands of heroic adventurers into the video gaming world. This game has become an iconic arcade fantasy title since its release in 1985, and its success has brought numerous sequels to both arcades and home consoles throughout the years.
The game is played from a 2D top-down perspective where you guide your chosen avatar through a hundred (or so) dungeons and labyrinths fighting ghosts, goblins, demons and monsters. The basic goal of the game is simply to progress through the dungeons and collect treasures. Some dungeon floors may have multiple exits that work as shortcuts, allowing you to skip some floors.
Before you enter the dungeon you must select which hero you want to play as. Thyra has the best armor, Thor is most skilled in melee combat, Questor is the fastest runner and Merlin has the strongest magic. You can bring up to three friends into the battle but the two of you can’t play as the same character. Other than the looks however, the difference between the four heroes is mostly only notable to venerable players who knows what to look for.
Your character starts off with 700 health for each credit you insert into the machine. More health can be accumulated in the game by collecting food power-ups, but your health is automatically deceasing over time and thus effectively puts a time limit on your game. You can at any time insert more credits that will translate into an additional 700 health, and new players can join the game at any time also. If someone in your party dies, they will exit the game without interrupting the ongoing game.
There are numerous power-ups that can be collected to further empower your character like invisibility necklaces and magic potions that destroy all monsters on the screen. These are the most prominent power-ups in the game. You’ll also be able to find magic potions that increases your character’s armor, speed, magic power and physical strength. You get to keep the stat-increasing power-ups for as long as your character is alive, so it does allow for some basic character development.
Other items that can be collected are treasure chests and keys. Keys do play a huge role in this game, because they will allow you to open up new areas in the dungeon which often is necessary in order to find the exit to the next level.
Killing monsters is the central aspect of the game. By pressing the Fire button you character launches its main attack – Thor throws axes, Thyra throws swords, Questor uses his bow and arrows and Merlin casts fire balls. Melee combat attacks are done by simply walking into enemies – however, standing next to a monster will allow it to attack you all the same, so it’s very risky to engage in close quarters combat. Instead it’s recommended to set up strategies with your fellow players where you cover each others back, and avoid melee combat as much as possible.
Every level of the dungeon is literally filled with monsters who keep respawning from the monster generating nests. The AI of the monsters is very basic – they basically chase you blindly until either you or it dies. Typically you will need to fight your way through a large group of monsters before you can reach the nest where they dwell but you need to be quick about it because they respawn almost as fast as you can kill them. Only by destroying their nests can you stop them from respawning. All monster types come in three different variants requiring one, two or three hits to kill. You will be able to identify the strength of a monster by looking at its color – for example; and a three hit monster will change color when you hit it to indicate that it has taken damage.
Collecting the magic potions allows you to fire them off with the Magic button. Depending on your characters magical strength it will hurt every monster on the screen, potentially destroying everything on screen. The ultimate monster in the game is Death, who appears now and then and it can only be killed with magic potions. Encountering Death when you have no magic potions can basically ruin your whole game – Death will drain a huge amount of your health before he disappears, so you must keep those magic potions at hand.
Because of the amounts of monsters in this game it’s quite natural to keep pressing the Fire button rapidly – but you need to keep an eye out for what you’re attacking because if your attack happens to hit a power-up, it will break! There are only a few indestructible power-ups, so you need to think before you shoot, because the game isn’t very generous with giving you power-ups to begin with.
After you’ve reached the eighth level of the dungeon, the game will start shuffling the order of the remaining levels. This will ensure that every time you play the adventure will be slightly different.
There is no final level nor final boss. The game will keep looping the hundred levels, in random order for as long as you can go. If you manage to get into the high score table, the game will save your score for the next 2000 games.
Gauntlet is a very hard game mainly because of how the enemies keep swarming you – and the respawn rate of the enemies is unreasonable. However, if you have access to the cabinet settings you’ll be able to adjust the game and play on eight different difficulty levels, which can be used to ease the game up.
Playing Gauntlet alone is a very overwhelming experience because the hordes of monsters that come at you is simply too much for one hero to handle. But on the other hand, playing with a full party can lead to some other problems. You all must stay on the same screen at all times which can be frustrating and restricting in narrow corridors. Your hero effectively blocks the way for fellow heroes, so you do have very restricted movement when all the four of you are walking down the same hallway. You can push and shove fellow heroes, but most of the time when your movement is hindered while you are being attacked, it is very hard to avoid taking hits.
Later in the game friendly fire is turned on, which means that your shots will hurt your fellow players. This raises the difficulty level and really requires that you work together if you hope to stand a chance.
Playing alone makes this game much harder – not only because you have to fight all the traps and dangers alone, but if you happen to die you must restart the level you died on. In the multiplayer mode, if someone dies the game just continues – unless the off chance of all of you dying at the same time. If this happens you must restart the level you died on, just like in single-player.
The dungeons are built on a square tile basis and this gives the entire game a blocky look. The sprites are small but quite detailed and the animation is simple but effective. The game is fast paced and runs great even with lots of sprites on the screen. There are numerous color schemes to the dungeon floors and walls so the game keeps looking fresh through all levels. With the myriad of activity happening on the screen the game has a peculiar and distinct look that will draw any curious spectator in.
The sound in Gauntlet is an instant classic – the game features a speech synthesizer that figures as a narrator and that will announce important events in the game. It will give you warnings when someone is about to die and in the beginning of the game it teaches you how the game works. The speech synthesizer also provide voices for the heroes, mostly screams as they get hurt. The other sound effects are pretty generic for a 1985’s arcade game, but it does have a mystical and magical atmosphere to it. Hearing the same monster sounds over and over does get tiring after a while, and there is no background music in the game. In that respect the sound is repetitive, but the narrator voice is what you’ll remember from the sound in this game.
Gauntlet is epic in any way you look at it. Its “back to basics” fantasy theme has bewildered millions of people through all these years, and the four player co-op mode has become a legacy in video gaming. Anyone who has played Gauntlet will carry the experience fresh in mind for a very long time – and that stands as a living proof of the sheer quality and excitement that this game brings. Back in 1985 this was dungeon crawling at its best and yet to this day it’s a solid and epic experience.