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From what I’ve gathered, Gauntlet seems to be a love it or hate it kind of series. There’s no in-between. While I admit that each game I’ve played is repetitive as fuck, there’s just something about them that keeps my hands wrapped around the controller. Killing monsters in the Gauntlet games is just addicting. There’s no other way to describe it. I’ve played the original two Gauntlet games a few times but they never got me hooked like the future titles. Gauntlet IV was developed by M2, published by Tengen, and released for the Sega Genesis in 1993. Gauntlet IV is basically a remake or port of the original game and includes additional gameplay modes. After finally playing it for this review, I think it’s one of the best Genesis games out there and probably the ultimate way to play the original game.
If you’ve played the first two Gauntlet games, you shouldn’t really expect anything new when it comes to the core gameplay mechanics. No matter which mode you decide to play through you start by choosing one of four characters – the Warrior, Valkyrie, Wizard, or Elf. Each character has a basic ranged attack. The Warrior throws axes, the Valkyrie throws swords, the Wizard fires magic, and the Elf fires arrows. The characters are not identical in terms of stats, however. Each character has different attack and magic strengths, some are better for certain situations, and if you’re dedicated to playing Gauntlet to completion, knowing what characters to use during co-op and solo play can be crucial. If you’re just playing this for fun and usually give up after several levels than none of this matters. I, personally, suck at this game and can barely make it to level twenty in the arcade mode.
The basic structure of the gameplay is that you navigate through maze-like levels, kill monsters, collect treasure, and just try find the exit to the next level. You can’t move and attack at the same time so there’s a lot of attacking and running. Monsters are everywhere and every level has monster generators that will keep spawning enemies until they are destroyed. You’ll slaughter ghosts, grunts, demons, sorcerers, thieves, and even Death, himself. Killing monsters and collecting treasure rewards you with points that add to your overall score. Getting hit by enemies will cause you to lose some health but your health will constantly be draining and can only be restored by eating food. Some food can be destroyed from attacks which is really annoying. I really don’t like that your health is always draining but Gauntlet was originally an arcade game so I guess there needed to be way for players to die easily because getting swarmed by hordes of monsters just wasn’t enough. You can pick up keys to open doors, potions can be picked up, stored, and used to clear the screen of enemies and it’s primarily useful for killing Death, who can only be killed with potions. You can pick up other useful items like limited invisibility, power shot, magic power, fight power, and a bunch of others to aid you during gameplay as well. This all makes up the basics of the core gameplay which carries over into each mode.
The Arcade Mode is your basic Gauntlet experience. You navigate through I think over one hundred levels, if you can make it that far. Some exits will take you to further levels like level one for example has an exit to level two and another to level four. Every now and then you’ll enter a Treasure Room where you need to collect as much treasure as you can and escape before the timer reaches zero. If you don’t escape in time you lose all of the points you would have otherwise acquired. As you progress through the levels, the mazes become a bit more complex but they’re never hard to navigate. It’s really just a matter of figuring out which way to go. The levels really aren’t that big and whenever I got stuck it’s because I didn’t have enough keys to open all the doors so I had to go find some. Sometimes walls can be destroyed, trap tiles will remove walls, opening a path, and there’s even teleporters that will teleport you around levels. The real challenge is fighting off the waves of monsters. Gauntlet has always been a co-operative experience with up to four players and even though I enjoy it solo, it is extremely fun when playing with friends. It’s probably easier, too. The screen can get filled with monsters and it will sometimes feel like there’s no way to avoid taking damage. I’m sure you can find videos of people dominating this game solo but for normal people, death will be frequent. You can insert more coins for more continues and there’s quite a bit of options when it comes to the arcade mode. Before playing you can set how many credits and how much health you want to start with and there’s even seven difficulty modes to choose from, among a few other options.
The Quest Mode is the real highlight here and it’s also a precursor to what we would see in future games, specifically Gauntlet: Legends and Gauntlet: Dark Legacy. The Quest Mode actually has a story. It’s not very in-depth but at least it’s something. There’s an ancient castle and some say it contains a secret treasure. Now obviously it does or the story would be pretty anti-climactic. There’s four towers represented by elements – Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water – and they each have a spell cast upon them to protect the castle against intrusion from the outside world. You’re objective is to navigate through each tower, defeat the boss, and shoot the burning crystals to remove the seals. Once all of the seals are broken, you can enter the castle. As cool as all of this is, I found the Quest Mode to be more tedious than anything thanks to confusing level design. I mean the gameplay is repetitive to begin with and the each tower is like a giant puzzle, making navigation just annoying. You need to work your way through the levels but to do that you need to go down the right steps, find the trap tiles to reveal more paths, backtrack to previous levels and access those new paths, and you just keep doing this throughout all four towers and the castle. Each boss is a dragon which is awesome but getting to them just sucks. If you like mazes or solving puzzles than the Quest Mode may be right up your alley. I don’t like either of those things and when you do figure out to progress even further through a tower, I’ll admit it’s satisfying, so there’s definitely something special here.
What really makes the Quest Mode unique is the extremely lite RPG system. As soon as you start you can enter the Magical Room which is the hub area. From here you can buy items from vendors and access any of the four towers, and even the castle, once the seals are broken. As you play, characters will gain experience to increase their stats and gold is collected in the towers which is used to buy items. Some of the items include better armor, weapons, and items like the power ups found in the arcade mode. You can buy a warp wing to warp you back to the Magical Room, a float ring, and even heal drinks to restore health. There’s all different kinds of tiles that can affect movement like slip tiles, damage tiles which are annoying, and even no shot tiles which are equally annoying. While I found the Quest Mode to be tedious, I’ll be the first to admit it was an extremely welcome addition that pretty much sets the standard for what I would expect from any future console Gauntlet games. Even with the puzzle-like levels, even I can’t deny that there’s a sense of adventure to the whole thing. A ridiculous password save system is used to save your character’s progress. I say “ridiculous” because the passwords are tied to your character’s name and the passwords themselves are extremely long, too. It wouldn’t be a problem if I could use a keyboard. There’s also passwords that save your progress in each tower. It’s insane.
Record Mode is another new addition and this is by far my favorite mode of the bunch. You traverse through the arcade levels but now you’re given ninety-nine credits and you’ll lose points for dying. I love Record Mode because it’s basically the original Gauntlet minus the feeling of the game eating your money. Because of the set number of lives, you can progress pretty far, no matter how much you suck, and it’s also a good way to learn the levels if you plan to play this for an extended period of time. This mode, too uses a password saving system so you can even continue from where you left off. Just be sure to write down the passwords provided to you once you exit a level. There’s an entire scoring system here, too. At the end of each level you can see your stats like your total score, total time, total damage, and total foods. It also shows you stats just for the levels themselves.
When it comes to the presentation in Gauntlet IV, the visuals are pretty damn close to original arcade version. Each tower in the Quest Mode uses a different color scheme to represent the themes and the levels in the Arcade and Record Modes also use color schemes for the same purpose. But in the end, the gameplay always feels the same and the simplistic visual differences won’t distract you from the game’s repetitive nature. So if you’re not a fan of the game from the get-go, there’s nothing here that will ever change your mind. Like I stated earlier in this review, it seems people either love or hate these games. The sound effects are pretty basic but the music here is phenomenal. Every song is memorable, catchy, and it’s one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard from a 16-bit video game. Each song has this epic sound to it that really fits the entire fantasy theme the game is going for. I can honestly say that even when I started to get a little bored from the gameplay, the music would keep me playing. Some of these songs really got me pumped up and into the action. To describe it better, the music made me feel like I was William Wallace kicking ass in the movie Braveheart.
M2 has been in business for quite a long time now. I think most of they’re ports of classic games to the 3DS Virtual Console are the definitive versions of those games and I just have so much respect for these guys. I didn’t realize they’ve been around so long until I got this game and as soon as I read that M2 was behind the development, that’s when I realized how this version of the original turned out to be so amazing. Gauntlet IV not only includes the original Arcade Mode, but a Quest Mode that pre-dates what we’ve seen in future games, a Record Mode which pretty much blows the Arcade Mode out of the water, and even a Battle Mode for some multiplayer gameplay. Since everybody here hates Gauntlet, except me, I didn’t get a chance to try the Battle Mode but I hear good things. You can still get this game for relatively cheap and while I definitely enjoy the future titles a lot more, Gauntlet IV is some amazing shit and one of the best 16-bit games you can get.