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When someone says the word “Gauntlet” I usually think of two things – the Gauntlet series of games and the unrelated Gauntlet movie starring Clint Eastwood. Good movie. For this review I’ll be going over Gauntlet Legends for the Nintendo 64. Developed and published by Atari Games, Gauntlet Legends was released as an arcade game in October, 1998. It was ported to the N64 in 1999, and the Sony PlayStation and Sega Dreamcast in 2000. I recently acquired the Dreamcast version for my collection and I hear it’s basically a straight arcade port with some features added from the sequel, Gauntlet Dark Legacy. As of right now I’ve only played the Nintendo 64 version of the game but from what I hear, the PlayStation version is the worst, only supporting two players rather than four, and having significantly less enemies in the levels. The Nintendo 64 version is considered to be the best. This was the first console version of the game and it also introduced an inventory system which is a pretty big deal.
In my Gauntlet IV review I said this was a love it or hate it kind of series and that’s still true. After beating this game I think I can honestly say that if you never liked the Gauntlet series, then there’s very little here that might change your mind. Gauntlet Legends really took some steps forward in terms of gameplay but yet still managed to retain the core mechanics of previous titles meaning it’s the same repetitive shit from beginning to end. You kill monsters, collect treasure, and navigate through a multitude of maze-like levels. This was the first 3D Gauntlet game to come to home consoles and whenever I talk to others that enjoy the game, they usually tell me a story about how they would play it all the time, with or without friends, maybe they leveled up one or more characters to the max, and generally how much they enjoyed it. If it gets you hooked, Gauntlet Legends is the kind of game that won’t let go. There’s just something so addicting about killing monsters in these games, and that’s never been more true when talking about Gauntlet Legends.
When you start the game you can choose from one of four characters – the Warrior, Valkyrie, Wizard, and Archer, which was normally the Elf in previous games. They each use a different weapon and have a different amount of points distributed into their base stats. These stats include strength, speed, magic, and armour. When you kill monsters you gain experience and will eventually level up, capped off at level ninety nine. Every time you level up your stats increase, making you stronger. Basically you’ll start out slow and weak but by the time you get to the end of the game you should be able to decimate basic enemies without too much of a problem. When you reach level twenty five you unlock a familiar that will always be flying near your character and attack whenever you attack. It’s actually very cool and very helpful. Secret characters are unlocked by finding the hidden entrances to Treasure Rooms in certain levels. These rooms require you to collect a max of fifty coins before the timer reaches zero which is not all that hard. Once you acquire all of the coins you can switch to the unlocked character after beating a level while retaining your current stats. The secret characters are variants of the starting ones.
Your character needs to be saved to a memory card which is actually a good idea because that means you can use your character in anybody’s game. Yes, Gauntlet Legends supports four player co-op which is extremely fun but as you may or may not know, I’m the only one at Gaming Pastime that enjoys the Gauntlet series so all of the clips in this video are of me playing solo. Gauntlet games have always had a focus on co-op gameplay and Gauntlet Legends is no exception. But if you don’t have anyone to play with or don’t care for multiplayer all that much like myself, don’t let that detract you from playing solo because this is still a fun and addicting experience.
Now let’s face it, I don’t think anyone cares about the stories in this series. In fact, I don’t even know if the original games had stories and if they do, I really couldn’t tell you what they’re about. Gauntlet Legends does have story, even if it forgettable and only exists purely as a backdrop for the gameplay. Skorne is an evil demon that was summoned by a wizard named Garm, brother to Sumner. Skorne has sealed the Gauntlet Realm’s gateways and trapped Sumner’s powers inside of magical Obelisks hidden in each world. Freeing Sumner’s powers will enable you to access other worlds. There’s also thirteen Runestones you need to find hidden throughout the worlds in specific levels, before you can enter the Underworld and battle Skorne. There’s six levels, including one boss fight in each of the first four worlds, and three levels in the final world. Defeating the bosses will reward you with shards from a magical mosaic that was destroyed by Skorne. Needless to say, there’s a good amount of collectibles to find. From the hub world you can interact with Sumner where you can spend gold to buy items and even increase your stats. He can also provide you with hints on where to find the next Runestone, hints for the worlds and enemies, and he’ll give you some history about what’s going on. The story is told through text and there’s not much voice acting. You’ll hear a man shouting or announcing, usually when you acquire items, and I think it’s Sumner just based on the shit he says. Other than that, Skorne says some things in a corny demonic voice here and there but overall the voice acting is more comical than anything.
The classic Gauntlet gameplay returns. You kill enemies and just try to survive the hordes of monsters coming to kill you. Monster generators are littered throughout each level and will keep spawning in enemies until they are destroyed. Instead of the camera being top-down like in previous games, it’s now an isometric camera. Each character has a different weapon but they all act the same and fire a form of projectile. You need to complete one level to unlock the next and if you fail to obtain the Runestone in a level, Skorne will taunt you when you exit. Keys can be found in the environments which are used to open doors and chests. Chests can contain gold, items, food, which restores a portion of your health, or even Death, himself. Death will chase you and drain your health if he gets close and he can only be killed by using magic potions. Barrels are also scattered throughout the environments and they can be destroyed. Standard barrels will sometimes contain items, red barrels explode, and green barrels will emit poison gas. Frequently, you’ll find scrolls in the levels and these give you hints on where to find special items or how to progress. Attacking specific parts of the walls will reveal secrets and switches found on the ground play a major role in navigation, especially in the later levels. When you step on a switch it normally activates something, meaning a new path or platform is available. The switches have arrows that point in the direction of what they activate. Some switches are multiplayer specific, usually revealing a shortcut and one player needs to remain standing on it or the path disappears.
Each world has a different theme so even though the gameplay never really changes, at least the environments remain interesting. You’ll traverse through mountains, a castle courtyard, caverns, and even poison fields. Many of the levels have environmental hazards like fire and spikes that come out of the ground for example. The final levels of the first four worlds are boss fights and they’re actually pretty cool. These bosses are large and mean but as long as you’re leveled up and have enough health, they shouldn’t pose much of a threat. Finding the legendary weapons in specific levels will make boss fights easier. Some of the legendary weapons may be found in worlds you don’t have access to yet so saving some bosses for later may be a good idea. I would recommend you obtain the legendary weapons only because some of the later bosses have some really cheap attacks that feel almost unavoidable.
Combat and navigation are pretty straightforward. You use the stick move, you press or hold the A button to attack, press B to use magic, Z is the turbo or sprint button, the dpad and C buttons let you scroll through your inventory, and the R button activates any items or weapons in your inventory. Items are meant to help you and weapon pickups are always more powerful than your standard attacks. Items and weapons are normally found in chests and barrels and these include things like different types of shields, a thunder hammer, super shot, time stop, reflective shot, speed shoes, and plenty more. Weapon pickups use up ammo and the items are usually on a timer when activated but if you deactivate the item, the timer stops. However, you have no control over the Anti-Death Halo and Invulnerability items so the timer will start counting down immediately upon pickup and you cannot deactivate them. Even though the combat consists of holding the A button ninety nine percent of the time, getting overrun by monsters can still happen frequently, especially early on. Sprinting drains your turbo meter but the turbo meter is better used for special attacks and it will refill over time. Pressing the turbo and attack buttons simultaneously performs a special, more deadly attack. It’s most deadly when the meter is full. Utilizing this is very important and can get you out of tight spots.
The enemies all vary in appearance, depending on the world you’re in but they all act the same and there’s no real AI here to speak of. All of the enemies just charge right at you. There’s grunts, demons, zombies, golems, and little fuckers that can easily overrun you if you’re not aware of your surroundings. Clearing out the monster generators is crucial and utilizing your special attacks can be great for destroying multiple generators at once. As you progress the enemies become damage sponges and only by leveling up and increasing your stats will you begin to cut through them like butter. This is Gauntlet after all so… Welcome to grinding, the video game. Whenever I would reach a particular area that gave me a hard time, I found that repeatedly playing through the first level of the first world was a great way to stock up on health and items and I would also level up in the process. After beating the game, Sumner rewards you with a permanent Anti-Death Halo, a rare item you can find throughout the levels and it stops Death from chasing you. The RPG elements here are very basic and there’s no real depth. This is not Diablo II or Baldur’s Gate. I would even say Skyrim has more depth than Gauntlet Legends. There’s no skill trees or character building. Every time you level up, you get stronger. That’s it. That’s as far as it goes. But you know what? I’m fine with that because it’s just so much fun. It’s simple, it’s easy to pick up and play, and it even supports four player co-op. Granted, you and your friends may find yourselves just mindlessly staring at the screen with drool dripping from your mouths after a while but it’s the kind of game that you lose hours of your life to. Gauntlet Legends is the kind of game you want to replay just because. Even though it’s a repetitive journey, if you get into it, it can really feel like an epic quest and I was eager to start a new game with a new character after I beat it.
Gauntlet Legends isn’t exactly a short game. If you don’t use a guide, it may take you a while to find all of the Runestones. When you get to the Ice World, the levels start to get long and very complex. The bigger levels really become tedious thanks to the shitty camera. You have no real control over the camera and it just does whatever the hell it wants. You can never see that far ahead of you and trying to find all of the switches to reveal paths or secrets can become a pain in the ass. It would also be nice to see ahead so you can see what you may be up against in terms of monsters and generators.
When talking about the presentation, I wouldn’t say Gauntlet Legends is a great looking game. All of the character models are pretty basic looking and low poly and it just reeks of an early 3D game. Because of the Nintendo 64’s limitations, it obviously doesn’t look as good as the arcade version. The sound effects are alright and get the job done but they’re nothing special. The music is a different story. The soundtrack is full of what you would expect, orchestral fantasy songs but they’re fantastic. There’s some really catchy stuff here and if this has an official soundtrack, I want it. I think there’s a different song for each level, which is pretty impressive, actually. Not every song is phenomenal but a good majority of them are. Now on the technical side of things, I didn’t notice too many bugs, although the game did freeze on me once. Gauntlet Legends does utilize the Expansion Pak and it is required for four players. If it’s supposed to help it keep a stable frame rate… it doesn’t. The frame rate dips constantly but I expected as much from a 64 game.
If you enjoy hack and slash games, dungeon crawlers, and most of all, grinding, Gauntlet Legends may be the game for you. If you’re a fan of the originals and have never played this then I’m happy to report that it retains the same gameplay we’ve come to know and love. Gauntlet Legends is a repetitive, but fun, game that takes you on a long journey through diverse environments where you’ll be killing monsters, hunting collectibles, defeating bosses, and leveling up your character. There’s several different characters to play as, plenty of characters to unlock, and even three difficulty modes – Normal, Advanced, and Expert. Gauntlet Legends has plenty of replay value and is just a fun and addicting experience which is what makes this series so great. This was succeeded by Gauntlet Dark Legacy for PS2, GameCube, Xbox, and even the Game Boy Advance, although I hear the GBA version is complete shit. Dark Legacy is basically a remake of Legends with even more content so unless you’re a collector or just really want to play Gauntlet Legends, I would just recommend you play Dark Legacy instead. If you hated the original Gauntlet games then I can’t say there’s anything here for you that’s worthwhile so I’d recommend you stay way. But for those that love the series, I would highly recommend Gauntlet Legends.