Many a quarter was spent for a lot of kids in the mid 90’s on Gauntlet Legends, the first iteration of the Atari classic first released in 1985, myself included. Frantic, comical, and cutthroat gameplay with an ever present potential for a gruesome death from the many traps littered about the dungeons solidified my love for series. So when asked how Arrowhead Studios’, of the famed Magika series, attempted at breathing their particular brand of life into classic franchise, I had only one thing to say: Brilliant.

The Gauntlet remake not only captures the essence of the franchise in practice and form, it also creates new avenues for discovery through meaningful progression and depth in multiple areas. This was something, as an arcade rat decades ago, that irked me. There was no real indicator of progression or betterment aside from memorizing stages and minimizing masochism through using fewer quarters. Even beyond this hurdle Gauntlet’s story was about as compelling as the back of a cereal box. Arrowhead clearly saw the lack of narrative as a point of emphasis that turned out quite well. Even though the appeal of Gauntlet was never really predicated on story elements, the introduction of such served to help players understand and maybe even appreciate the characters’ struggles.

For those unfamiliar, Gauntlet pits 4 heroes summoned by the devious Morak to test their wills within the dungeons or gauntlets for riches and power. In terms of progression and reward, Gauntlet excels over its predecessors, even over *gasp* Dark Legacy, which is heralded as the quintessential “Gauntlet” experience. Such is not the case anymore. The Gauntlet remake solves the age old issue with the Gauntlet series: incentives for improving at the game and replayability. Arrowhead accomplished a great deal in this arena, especially in the face of similar yet much more contemporary games. The implementation of masteries, which offer small and incremental perks for more dungeon durability, keeps the game fresh and encourages players to invest a considerable amount of time in each hero to maximize their potential. Notable examples include reductions to gold loss on death, increased damage versus specific monsters , and skill cooldown reductions.

Before getting into the characters themselves, that attention to detail in regards to the Gauntlet atmosphere must be addressed. Most notably, the shared locked camera akin to the original along with the ability to harm your teammates as much as help them remains intact, a core tenant to the series. The loose confederacy of Gauntlet was what really made it appealing as one could invariably steal all of the food, gold, potions, and leave their team for dead if they so choose, but at the cost of overall failure. The psychological aspects of the game really shone a light on the dynamics of human interactions and the decisions between teamplay and self-preservation. I had many a laugh at accidentally taking or destroying food mid fight only to be denied food in the next instance by the volition of one or more teammates out of sheer spite. At the same token, I was also present for games where everyone was on the equality train and we excelled. The game certainly promotes teamplay as it’s a chore to solo the dungeons. You’ll spend more time trying to stay alive in comparison to a focused group effort. Harder difficulties enjoy larger, denser, and faster packs of monsters. There’s a small health buff, but Gauntlet has always favored overwhelming odds as opposed to meat-wall enemies.

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Now to contextualize my above madness with our illustrious heroes, we have 4 of them that each possesses oodles of personality further reinforced by callouts and in game banter. First we have Thor, the Warrior, who is adept at chopping down foes with his axe, takes the least damage, and has a satisfying spinning cleave skill. Next up is Thyra, the Valkyrie and my personal favorite, with shield and sword. She is able to block any non-boss attack and can reflect projectiles. Ala Captain America, she can toss her shield which bounces between enemies, dismembering them. Then there’s Questor, the Elf, who dons a bow and arrow along with a bomb skill that can attached to his arrow attacks. But no archer is complete without a dodge roll that gets you killed in game more that its intended use. Lastly we have Merlin, the Wizard, the best designed character the franchise. Arrowhead expanded his limited spell arsenal. With 9 spells at his disposal, Merlin is either a blessed asset or a wretched hindrance. The spell combos, ala Magika, require precise decision making as most of them fill specific damage or utility niches that change with each dungeon, not to mention half of them having long cooldowns. Though it’s favorable to have a competent Wizard, the opposite guarantees much hilarity. I don’t think there’s anything funnier than seeing Merlin teleport from a mob into a corner and get torn to pieces by another mob.  This goes for all the classes. The situations that smell of futility are certainly satisfying.

Through character specific perks such as reduced damage taken when below 30% health for the Valkyrie, health regen for the Warrior, a second chance when fatal struck for the Elf, or damage absorbing shield for the Wizard. What truly solidifies the character experience is the banter and quips between all of the heroes. It becomes clear that the Warrior is an overzealous, narcissistic, and stubborn brute that, to no surprise, has beef with the sarcastic, playful, and whiny Elf.  The Wizard and Valkyrie both are neutral in regards to each other, but are united with the Elf in their disdain for the Warrior (and rightfully so as he’s a jerk 90% of the time with his quotes.) And such jerkiness is memorable as it’s so contrived, laughing is the only appropriate response.

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Despite the numerous successes the game has in execution and preservation of the Gauntlet series, I do have a few grievances. First and foremost, regardless of the commitment to the Gauntlet “experience”, the ability for text and/or voice chat is a must. The call-outs, while marginally sufficient, aren’t enough to communicate outside of its scope. “Cheer,” “Help,” “Let’s Move,” and “Thanks” cannot communicate anything remotely strategic, especially if players are seeking to complete the dungeons as perfectly as possible. This is more an adjustment to contemporary gaming where online communication is the norm. In the past, you were face to face with your teammates and could yell at them for stealing the food, to focus targets, or run away from Death.

Another gripe is no real surprise to me, but it will most likely be improved (one can hope), which ends up being the matchmaking system. At the time of this review, it’s a lot better than release, but still leaves a lot to be desired ultimately. The wait times are longer than you’d expect, the ability for people to quit mid-way through a dungeon and the intermittent latency issues, which is really the fault of P2P connections than anything. Still the point stands, the game needs a legitimate browser with the ability to filter difficulty, specific dungeons, and a class queuing system so people can have the chance to play the character they’d like to play. Players have suggested a drop-in/drop-out option, but I don’t feel that would be effective nor fair in the harder difficulties as revive tokens are gained through kills and kill streaks. All that hard work could be for naught if a random Elf decides to join the dungeon in progress and uses up all those hard earned tokens or ruins the dynamic set in motion by the current participants by not cooperating. If it is to be added, a toggleable option is imperative or a way to filter who gets to drop in and drop out (Friends or Public).   Within the same vein, the game experience is exponentially different with friends versus a pick-up game. This disparity is probably related to the fact that the players are inexperienced and have yet to really get a grasp on the game, but to even remotely expect coordination in a pick-up game is asking for too much, sadly enough. In comparison, with friends and third party voice chat, the game becomes a relative breeze, save for the final acts of each dungeon and their respective bosses.

Barring the back-end issues, the core experience is spot on and as a longtime fan with a large chunk of my childhood wrapped within this hack and slash extravaganza we call Gauntlet, I’m pleased to say that my when I take off my rose tinted glasses frosted with nostalgia, the experience is even better without them. Arrowhead’s calculated and ambitious remake retains, revitalizes, and retunes what was loved about Gauntlet through replay values in the form of character development and dynamic dungeon progression. The remake is an exhibition of greed and failure that gets more addicting with each successful dungeon clear and inevitable death.

Gauntlet: Review
Pros
  • Remains true to the core of the Gauntlet series
  • Stupid amounts of fun, depth, and replayability
  • Highly rewarding progression system
Cons
  • Limited communication (no text or voice chat)
  • Lack of dedicated match browser; matchmaking needing improvement
9Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)
8.0

About The Author

Contributor

Copy editor, part-time ninja, half wolf, and missing an off button for sarcasm, Karim has been happily wedded to video games since childhood. Though his primary expertise resides in FPS, Platformer, Action-Adventure, and RPG genres, he's got something to say about every game. Particular new to the indie scene, he'll try his best to offend you without your realization.

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