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Hands-On: Gauntlet

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Posted on March 24, 2014 AT 05:00pm

Ray needs remake…badly

While it hasn’t had nearly as many remakes as some of its arcade brethren over the years, Gauntlet still holds a special place in many gamers’ hearts. EGM even listed the beloved “needs food…badly” quip as the No. 3 greatest videogame line of all time back in 2002. Now, Warner Bros. has secured the rights from Midway after the latter went bankrupt (and after Midway acquired the rights from Atari in the same manner), and they’ve tapped Swedish developer Arrowhead Game Studios—best known for 2011’s Magicka—to bring the series back for a modern audience.

Obviously, tailoring Gauntlet for younger gamers means some changes. I’m going to brace myself, because this is where the old-school trolls start licking their chops. But there’s actually not that much of a difference here from what arcade junkies know and love. The most immediate change you’ll notice is that you don’t continuously lose health anymore. This forced “time limit” was originally designed as another way to suck down your stack of quarters, and it would probably just piss a lot of people off nowadays. This new Gauntlet isn’t a cakewalk by any means, though. While before you’d pump in more quarters in order to revive yourself, now you need to spend the gold you find in levels.

This works because a lot of modern games have put less of an emphasis on score. It also means this remake has its own skill-based life limit in line with the spirit of the original game. An extra nuance is that when playing cooperatively, all the gold is communal, so if you have a friend who really sucks, all that extra gold you risked your life for may not be there when it’s your turn to finally kick the bucket.

Another interesting thing about gold is that it’s not used to buy weapons like in later Gauntlet ports. Instead, you get new weapons and items by finding “relics” in levels, which then give you special powers like an ice blast or better speed. As you find more and more relics, you need to make some tough choices. You’ll keep them forever, but you can only carry two at a time into a level and can’t spam them because of a recharge meter.

Beyond this, the 4-player hack-n-slash co-op action you know and love still feels a lot like it did back in the day. The four classes—Warrior, Elf, Valkyrie, and Wizard—return, but you can only have one on each team (no clones). You can choose to turn friendly fire on in order to add some extra griefing potential, but because of the communal gold, the game feels less like a competition and more like a true co-op experience, kind of like the Gauntlet Legends spin-off for the N64.

The game also features some classic dungeon designs. I played a level with an Egyptian-tomb motif that was filled with hundreds of undead mummies, and at the end, I faced off against a boss that looked a lot like Death. The classic top-down view is still present, and everything just looks like it’s received a modern coat of paint. I can’t deny that it was tons of fun to swing my Warrior’s axe while surrounded by dozens of foes.

My only real disappointment is the fact that this is currently a PC/Steam exclusive. I miss games where you could sit around a couch and play with a bunch of friends—and I don’t think of that when I hear “PC.” This feels like it’d be perfect for the Xbox One and PS4 with four controllers, but we’ll have to wait and see if Warner Bros. reconsiders after seeing how well Gauntlet does when it hits this summer.

Ray Carsillo, Reviews Editor
Ray Carsillo has extensive roots in geek culture, as he’s written about videogames, comics, and movies for such outlets as Newsday.com, ESPNNewYork.com, Classic Game Room on YouTube, Collider.com, and Comicvine.com before finally settling into his role as EGM’s reviews editor. His main goal in life? To become king of all geek media, of course! Follow Ray’s exploits on Twitter: @RayCarsillo. Meet the rest of the crew.

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