Updated visuals don't detract from the classic gameplay, which is as fun today as it was in 1985
Available formats: PC
Ask a gamer what the first thing they think of when you say ‘dungeon crawler’ – if they’re younger than 25, they’ll probably respond with Diablo, but ask someone older, someone familiar with arcades and playing shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers, and they’ll probably say Gauntlet. The top-down, four-player hack-n-slash classic first appeared way back in 1985, letting groups of intrepid adventurers run around trap-filled crypts and caverns, chopping through hordes of expendable baddies.
Gauntlet has been recreated several times over the years, but neither Gauntlet Legends for the N64 and original PlayStation, nor Seven Sorrows for the PS2 and original Xbox in 2005 managed to capture the spirit of the original – largely due to unnecessary 3D graphics and clunky gameplay. In 2014, however, when highly polished versions of much-loved classics are all the rage, indie team Arrowhead Studios have turned their attention to a Gauntlet revival that stays true to the original game.
As the simple name suggests, Gauntlet returns to the basic formula of the series, letting you and up to three friends choose from a Warrior, Valkyrie, Wizard and Elf, then battle through a series of dungeons set up for fun by the evil wizard Morak.
Each of the three game worlds is split into four levels, with their own distinct enemies, traps and bosses. Each level contains three floors; a large labyrinthine floor, a shorter one with a twist such as being chased by a physical embodiment of Death or having to dodge fireballs, and a survival arena. There was some talk of procedural generation before Gauntlet launched, but it’s nowhere to be seen. It would have been a welcome feature, giving a bit more variety to its relatively short 8 hours campaign.
Each character has their own distinctive play style. The Wizard relies on spell combos, while the Elf is great for rolling into the thick of the action, planting a bomb, then retreating and attacking from a distance with rapid-fire arrows. The Valkyrie is a melee character with a shield for tactical combat, and ranged moves which make up for her lower strength and health than the plodding but heavy-hitting Warrior. You can’t have two people playing as the same character, which helps balance the game and force you to try out the different roles when playing in a group.
Most of the heroes are a pleasure to play, with the cumbersome and vulnerable Warrior being the only exception. He also lacks a fast-paced dash attack, which means he’s usually last to pick up the gold scattered around each level. Team players will let the warrior take his share, but it’s equally fun to race your fellow players to the riches – even if the hapless Conan impersonator usually misses out.
With a focus on pace over character micromanagement, the only loot Gauntlet throws your way is gold and potions. This means you won’t be twiddling your thumbs mid-game as your friend mulls over which stat-boosting necklace to wear, or discards a ton of items to avoid being over-encumbered. Some will be disappointed that they can’t tinker with their characters a bit more, but the decision not to include these things gives Gauntlet a great pick-up-and-play momentum.
There’s still a little character development though. Between levels, you can spend your accrued gold on relics, which each character can have two of. These upgradeable items grant temporary boosts, such as invincibility, enhanced attack speeds, or the ability to summon a gargoyle to fight by your side. The heroes also gain Mastery bonuses as they progress; these small stat boosts are gained from killing a certain number of enemies, eating a certain amount of food, or even dying multiple times. Each hero can earn new weapons and armour for completing certain levels on certain difficulties, but they are only cosmetic and have no effect on gameplay. Worse still, you have to pay for these trivial items with your hard earned gold, which would be better spent on relics.
Armour scam aside, Gauntlet is the most evolved and most grassroots game in the venerable series. Right from the 8-bit opening to the theme tune, Gauntlet pays homage to the original, with the same top-down fixed camera and ability to accidentally destroy food and potions if you get too hack-happy. Most importantly, the gameplay harks back to the addictive, yet intense, simplicity of its legendary forebears.
It’s a bit too short, but its brisk gameplay and no-nonsense character development make it great to jump into whether you’re playing with friends in the same room or strangers online. If you enjoy dungeon crawling, but are put off by the character development and grinding of more heavyweight games like Diablo III Gauntlet is an excellent retro alternative.
|OS Support||Windows Vista/7|
|Minimum CPU||2/4GHz dual-core|
|Minimum GPU||Nvidia GeForce 9800 / AMD Radeon HD 2600 XT|
|Minimum RAM||4GB RAM|
|Hard disk space||2GB|