In 1985, the original Gauntlet became a coin-op legend. Throwing up to 4 players into mazes full of traps, locked doors, hidden rooms and hordes of screen-filling enemies, it was a hectic yet enjoyable formula that has been mimicked often since its first incarnation. Though the franchise hasn’t been touched since 2005’s Seven Sorrows, Arrowhead Studios has rebooted the series with a fresh and charming take on the original that stays true to its roots while also adding some meat in an attempt to stand among similar titles today.
For some, itâ€™s easy to start comparing Gauntlet to what many would consider its torch-bearing descendent: Diablo. While there are some similarities, Gauntlet is a WAY more casual title. The campaign itself clocks in at only around half-dozen hours, there are only 3 dungeons to explore (broken up into 4 stages each), and the 4 characters to choose from donâ€™t have a vast array of customization options. Though, thatâ€™s not to say the game still isnâ€™t a blast to wreak havoc in.
The 4 archetypes return from the original and each has a unique play style which manages to set them apart quite well. The Warrior is an in-your-face fighter who dishes out heavy damage using his double axes and some sort of silly, Link-like, spinning attack. The Valkyrie also relies on being up close, but she has a defensive twist in the form of a shield she can use to block incoming attacks and projectiles, but that can also be thrown to clear out whole groups of enemies. The Elf, interestingly enough, fires his arrows like a twin stick shooter as well as having the ability to set bombs and dodge enemies. The Wizard stands out as the most unique of the 4 and anyone who has played Magika will have an idea of how he works. He has 3 basic spells based on fire, ice, and lightning, but also has the option to combine them for even deadlier results. Things get quite destructive once you start dishing out the freezing waves and fire bombs.
While the game can be completed solo, to get the full experience you want to play with a full party. The chaos thatâ€™s produced when striking down hundreds of enemies with the combined abilities of all 4 heroes is a real treat. The witty banter they share back and forth as you trek through each stage is a nice little touch as well. The stages themselves are procedurally generated, but honestly, one barely notices. The locales are the typical fantasy haunts and get a bit stagnant as you hack and slash your way through them. Luckily, youâ€™ll be distracted most of the time by trying not to die. Other than typical enemies like skeletons, zombies, and giant spiders, youâ€™ll have to deal with traps and environmental hazards such as flowing lava and even Death itself chasing you down. Youâ€™ll also find a boss waiting for you at the end of each dungeon and rather than just whacking them until their dead, each one has a little twist to mix things up a little.
The game offers upgrades and stat boosts through Masteries. Theyâ€™re basically like achievements or trophies from other titles, but they add perks that help you throughout the game. Kill enough of a certain enemy type and you gain a damage boost against them. Find yourself getting killed over and over by spiked floor traps and youâ€™ll earn a defense against those. There are over 70 Masteries to earn for each character so if youâ€™re a completionist, you will be devoting some time to earning them. Other upgrades though, in the form of relics, can be straight up purchased and equipped with the gold you earn in-game. These give you powerful spells like increasing movement speed or summoning illusions to fight for you. You can also spend gold on aesthetic changes to make your hero look more sinister and deadly.
Gauntlet does a swell job of staying true to the original, but nostalgia can only take it so far. While Arrowhead has added elements to help the title feel fresh; the 6-hour campaign, repetitive level design, and miniscule options for character customization will be a definite turn-off for some. Though, if youâ€™re looking for a casual multiplayer title for you and your friends, Gauntlet definitely has enough going for it to keep you entertained for a bit. Just watch out for that exploding food.
Images courtesy of: