Gauntlet debuted in 1985 as a multiplayer dungeon-crawler arcade game. It came home to consoles and is considered a classic of the era. It’s been revived a few times over the years, but the franchise hasn’t seen a release in nearly a decade. Thanks to Warner Bros. Games and Arrowhead Studios, players can now return to the Gauntlet in a downloadable multiplayer adventure.
The game has a pretty barebones story. A powerful magic user summons and traps himself in the Gauntlet, and needs the assistance of the players’ characters to escape. The players can each choose from four distinct classes, though only one of each class may be played at a given time. The melee characters are the all-offense Warrior and the more defensive Valkyire. The Elf fires a rapid-shot bow from afar, while the Wizard relies on fighting-game like combos to switch between spells for various occasions. They each play significantly differently from each other, and swapping one class for another is a great way to spice things up if slaughtering hordes of monsters has somehow lost its flavor.
There are three types of levels you’ll encounter in Gauntlet. The first is a dungeon level, in which you’ll explore a dungeon level map, exposing its treasures and horrors, until you find the stairway to the next level. The second is much like the first, except death itself is chasing after you. The reaper drains your life fast, so you’ll need move quickly if you want to survive. The last is a battle in a single room against seemingly endless hordes, in which you and your teammates must work together to survive the horde and destroy their spawn points.
An interesting twist is that the party does not share gold. Don’t be surprised if you enter a room and find your teammates are ignoring all of the monsters and, instead, darting straight for the piles of shiny that litter the floors. When you’re knocked out, you’ll often find that your friends aren’t above picking your corpse for the gold you dropped either.
That gold is used to purchase relics, specials objects that can be equipped to your character. They can be equipped two at a time, and grant special powers like increased attack speed for brief periods. They may seem superfluous early on in the game, but you’ll find them quite useful towards the end.
Relics are just one way to improve your character. The other is through masteries. Instead of leveling up traditionally, players gain masteries through their actions and misfortunes in the Gauntlet. For example, dying enough times will lessen he amount of gold you drop. It’s interesting twist that molds a character based on a your actions rather than a pre-planned skill progression.
Gauntlet’s gameplay is challenging, satisfying, and engrossing, if a little repetitive. There’s not much variation between enemies and environments, but the sheer numbers that players will find themselves up against makes battle feel exciting and surviving battle feel significant. Seeing a room crowded with monsters will make you worry, but clearing them out with the Warrior’s whirlwind ability will make you cheer.
Gauntlet isn’t a particularly long game, lasting maybe 10 hours, but that’s okay. Come for the nostalgia, stay for the multiplayer madness. It’s a fine way for you and three friends to spend a weekend.