Gauntlet is one of those franchises that have echoed throughout the eons of gaming. Starting as an arcade title by Midway, the game saw a team of up to four players taking on the role of one of four archetypes to tackle a dungeon, or gauntlet, to battle through waves of enemies to ultimately reach some special gems. The series has since expanded into a series of sequels and spin-offs that all share the Gauntlet title, with each game being of varying quality and design; it has since returned to its roots as the remade Gauntlet, for PC.
The storyline in Gauntlet is simple. Four heroes have been kidnapped by a powerful mage to against the Gauntlet in order to acquire a few gems to earn their freedom, or glory, or something along those lines. This storyline is explained quickly during the very brief tutorial to get the player accustomed to each of the characters before the game starts for the first time. Basically, while players are hacking away at hordes of enemies while on a falling battlefield and learning their controls, this summoner of sorts explains his plan in a small amount of detail. The story does get expanded slightly throughout each of the missions, but it’s barely more than a sentence or two.
It’s obvious from the get-go that the storyline in Gauntlet is blatantly a setup for gamers to have a sense of direction while decimating a plethora of hordes of enemies. Think of it as a background story for gamers to keep in mind so their mindless slaughter of undead hordes has a context, rather than just being a game about the endless slaughter of hordes of undead. This kind of storytelling is very reminiscent of classic arcade styled games, games that Gauntlet itself prides on being.
For those unfamiliar with the gameplay of a Gauntlet game, it is basically a game where (up to) four players assume the role of one of four characters as they move through a gauntlet, hacking away at enemies and eventually clearing levels in order to eventually defeat a boss monster. In this gauntlet, it is to acquire a gem, a gem that the summoner mage-wizard dude requires. There are three chapters all up, divided into four levels each; and each of those levels have three levels within them. After beating three levels, the players move into the fourth level to fight the boss monster. To open the fourth level the player must beat the first three levels first, by making it to the end of each gauntlet.
Each character has a different method of fighting, which changes up the playstyles of players slightly. For instance, a player that prefers a variety of skills for different situations would prefer to play as a Wizard, as they have a vast array of skills, skills that can even be mixed and matched for more variety. However, a player that prefers to charge in and just hack and slash might want to play as the Warrior character. The other characters are the Elf and the Valkyrie, with the Elf specialising in ranged combat and keeping away from being hit, while the Valkyrie is best described as Captain America.
The fun of the gameplay in Gauntlet lies in how simple of a concept it is. No two players can control the same kind of character, and players must work together to beat a Gauntlet. There isn’t really a meta game, there isn’t a hunt for loot, there’s no leveling curve. It’s essentially the players skills, the players friends skills, and a whole lot of determination involved in making it to the end. This kind of gameplay makes Gauntlet ideal for both quick 20-30minute sessions for clearing one level, or multi-hour sessions for clearing entire areas. Gauntlet is incredibly fun for all sessions, and this is largely due to the nature of the game.
While there are no level-ups explicitly, unlike in some previous Gauntlet games, that isn’t to say that there is no character progression. Throughout the game, players collect treasure and gold that accrues until the end of a level which can be used to purchase basic upgrades and powerups. These powerups can’t be used until players collect blue potions throughout a level. What’s odd about the potions is that in previous Gauntlet games, players could use them to scare off death, but in this one, they are strictly for powers. An example of a powerup is a gargoyle minion, which moves around a room and shoots things to damage and defeat opponents. Using these powerups in difficult areas can be vital, especially when playing with a smaller party where it is easier to be overrun.
Gauntlet games have been widely renown for their commentative announcer. While some previous Gauntlet games have had an over the top announcer that had a similar feel to the announcer from Unreal Tournament, this latest Gauntlet has cut it back just a little. This isn’t a bad thing, as his comments now seem a lot more attuned to the frequency of the gameplay, and only pop up when relevant. For example, in Gauntlet Dark Legacy (one of our favourite Gauntlets), the announcer would constantly warn the player that “RED WIZARD NEEDS FOOD BADLY”, but in this latest Gauntlet, announcements are much less frequent and much less annoying because of this. It’s also nice to hear that the announcer has a bit of humour, this is probably because it is actually the wizard dude that has summoned the team into the Gauntlet. The announcements are less helpful and more like taunts because of this, which adds a level of snark and humour to the game.
One major and significant gripe with Gauntlet is that there is either no chat functionality, or it is incredibly well hidden. In a game that requires teamwork and co-ordination, having a readily available chat system is a must. It’s understandable that because of the fast-paced environment that players wont be able to communicate often, but when the easiest method of communication is to simply open up the Steam overlay, then it makes communication a bit of a hassle. If there is an update, we’d love to see chat functionality inserted (or made easier to find).
Gauntlets biggest strength is that it is so strongly based around the premise of an arcade game. Players will find that taking the time to practice and learn their characters are integral to their success. This makes replaying the game necessary, and thanks to how fun the game is, replaying the game is enjoyable experience. Gauntlet rewards players with highscores, achievements, times and more. This means players challenge the worlds leaderboards, with the best players around the world taking the top spots. Some of the score seen seem almost impossible, but with a good team and practiced players, taking the top could be pretty easy. Another way that Gauntlet has gone back to its arcade roots is with a coin respawn system. This system adds a bit of a gamble to the game. This is because players essentially earn more coins by achieving a higher kill count. However, one death requires one coin to respawn from. Players will need to manage their health while also actively looking to kill enemies, just to keep their chances of survival at maximum.
Overall Gauntlet is one of the most fun experiences on the PC so far. Its simplicity has allowed for a focus on fun during development that really shows throughout all facets of the game. The team behind this game must have been huge fans of the series, or at least have been huge fans of what they were making to have built such a fantastic game.
Gauntlet is published by WB Games and developed by Arrowhead Studios. This review is based on the Steam release and was purchased by the reviewer. It can be purchased on Steam for like $20. The reviewer is a fan of the franchise, but stopped playing with Legacy.