Chris Capel is running, tripping, and stumbling through the Gauntlet
Everyone heard of Gauntlet? Ah good, I won't bother explaining it the- oh, wait, someone in the third row of the internet put their hand up. Okay, fine. Gauntlet is a much-loved arcade top-down hack 'n' slash game with four-player co-op. It was first released in 1985, making this the second game in a month or so that's a remake of a game from the '80s that I've reviewed. Let's hope this fares better than Shadowgate.
Much like the original, developer Arrowhead's remake of Gauntlet is a four-player co-op top-down hack 'n' slash brawler. There are twelve "floors", usually each made up of two levels and a big-fight-type stage, apart from the odd floor that is just a fight against a huge boss. You make your way through each level killing everything as you go, picking up keys to unlock special doors, potions to activate super-powers, and gold to purchase the few items available in the hub. While there is only a basic story the narrator and the characters are written so humorously that you soon forget that the plot is paper-thin. The four characters are Thor the Barbarian/Warrior, Questor the Elf Ranger, Thyra the Valkyrie, and Merlin the Wizard. Yes, those are the actual names.
Do not play this way. Even the Warrior knows it
The best thing about Gauntlet is the player characters, in particular how vastly differently they all play - right down to having different control schemes! The Warrior is the best at killing and doesn't use the right stick (if you're playing with a controller, as it's probably best you do), but has no defensive moves whatsoever. The Elf is all about ranged combat, uses the right stick to spray arrows around and can also fire a powerful single shot plus lay bombs and roll-dodge, but is useless up close - oh, and he sounds like Simon Pegg as Scotty. The female Valkyrie defies convention by actually being the most armoured, toughest-looking and least attractive of the team (what a twist!), and as well as being a pretty good killer she also has a defensive shield - which she can toss but at a cost of leaving herself defenceless. The Wizard is possibly the most interesting in that he has nine spells of different varieties, but most importantly seems to have been inspired by Magicka in the way you activate them - B + X + Right Stick to aim fires a lightning bolt for example, and he's definitely one that requires learning to master.
Before we go any further a warning: do not play Gauntlet in single-player, or consider it. Even on Normal it gets either impossible or at least straight-up boring fast, as there aren't any bots and the characters are meant to play off of each other. The Warrior for example as mentioned has no defensive moves, meaning that he has no way of escaping from the enemies that will swarm straight at him. I struggled to stay alive even on the very first level before I gave up and accepted the "Public" lobby option into my life.
Ah, the classic line appears
Fortunately the very simple nature of Gauntlet means that if you're just a remotely competent player you'll be able to help your teammates and while there are options to screw them over they merely consist of stealing gold and destroying food rather than anything truly frustrating, so it's totally fine to play a Public game. Moreover despite seeming like a niche game every single time I opened my lobby up it was filled with four players in under a minute no matter what time I played, so it was always a good option. That said every time I tried to join someone else's game I always got disconnected.
The gameplay is simple, and unfortunately this is both the blessing and the curse of Gauntlet. The blessing is that it's very easy to get into and play with anyone, the curse is that there's no depth whatsoever. It consists of going through a series of dungeons, killing everything and collecting loot. Sometimes there will be a hidden room or an extremely basic puzzle (more of a simple goal really), but 90% of the game consists of walking into a room, watching as Summoning Stones rise from the ground and start spewing out enemies, destroying those Stones and the enemies, and then moving on. Again and again and again. Sometimes things get changed up a bit, like when you have to fight in pitch darkness or the unkillable Grim Reaper pursues you and you all have to run for it, but far too often it's just Summoning Stones Appear/Destroy Them. It's fun at the start, then it becomes so repetitive I almost cried.
At last, something interesting... oh, it's the exit
Which is made worse by the levels, all of which feel quite similar. I have no idea why there's not more variety in them. I also don't know why Arrowhead didn't think that randomly generated levels would be a good idea. As mentioned they're all pretty simple, and as long as it remembers to spawn keys, loot, food, Summoning Stones and the odd huge spider they could've had randomisation which would've meant that as long as you didn't mind the basic gameplay you could play forever. Consequently we're left with simple, repetitious gameplay and static levels that you'll play once and never need to touch again. With only twelve of these levels Gauntlet suddenly starts feeling very small.
Which is all sad, because as a modern update of Gauntlet it works pretty well, as Arrowhead get the same sense of humour and bring all the classic staples like destroyable food and quotable narrator back. Unfortunately like Shadowgate and Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded having such a faithful remake just shows how far gaming has come since the '80s. Gauntlet has good writing (although a throwaway story that concludes with an abrupt ending), is humorous and definitely fun at least the first time through in four-player co-op, which fortunately at the moment is easy to find. It's all dragged down though by exceptionally tedious gameplay, simplistic static levels that really needed some randomness, and having no replay value whatsoever. All of which is a death knell for a co-op game, let alone the unplayable single-player. If you're going to get it do so now, because there won't be anyone around to play with by Christmas. Gauntlet needs fun, badly.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Placing an explosive barrel next to a suspicious wall and blowing a hole in it, only to sweep in and steal all the gold before the other players can get it!