When I was a kid I’d sit at the family’s ZX Spectrum with my brother, fire up Gauntlet and (if I’m honest) have not idea what was going on. While my brother found chests full of healing stuff, I’d be opening the ones which damaged me. He’d always pick the Wizard, wiping out screens full of bad things with a single button press, while I picked a random class doing nothing useful at all. And I loved it. It was a game we could play together in the same room, something you don’t often find nowadays, and the teamwork element was great even when I didn’t really have the age or gaming experience to fully appreciate everything.
Fast forward 20-odd years, and I nearly burst with excitement when I saw Gauntlet was coming to the PS4. Things have changed somewhat, but the premise remains the same: great fun for several people at once, with screens chock-full of ghoul things for you to slice, skewer and generally cause as much discomfort to as possible. It’s very tough, which makes me feel better about the failings of the 7-year-old me, but with some perseverance you’ll get loads out of it.
What I love most about Gauntlet is how blatantly it’s a modern version of an old game. That’s not me saying “aren’t all old games brilliant?” because I remember playing some genuinely horrendous games in the 80s, but there just aren’t many games nowadays which give you a 19 second story intro and let you just get on with it for hours without having to worry about twists, turns and a wide range of characters. Gauntlet lets you just face hoards of demons alone or with some friends, knowing only that you’re running a Gauntlet created by the evil wizard Morak and searching for as much gold and treasure as possible, while also hopefully stumbling upon the Tyrfing sword which will grant the wizard eternal freedom.
The idea of gold collecting isn’t something to be taken lightly or ignored either; not only is there so much lying around that it’d be rude to ignore it and leave without it, but it also helps you to buy upgrades and new abilities at certain points which will help later on when things get much harder than you might imagine from the “normal” difficulty tag. And while the difficulty might annoy some people it’s another throwback to older gaming which has long since been lost in among multiple checkpoints, any-time saved games and various other methods to wash the challenge out of a lot of today’s games.
But just as was the case way back in the days of the Spectrum, the most fun you’ll have is when others get involved. You’re free to chop and change between the characters whenever you want, something which makes a huge difference in the way you play the game, but there’s nothing quite like claiming one of them as your own, getting to know the best way of using them and progressing through the game wither others who have done the same with their own character.
Elsewhere away from the main game there are two other modes to try out, and both the Endless and Colloseum modes are definitely worth a look. Endless mode keeps throwing areas at you with buckets of enemies until you and your buddies have all died off, something which could easily make an extremely fun evening with a couple of friends round with their controllers. It’s tricky, but if you haven’t figured out from this review yet that Gauntlet is quite tough then I’m not sure what else I need to mention. Well, apart from the Colloseum mode, which pits you against four areas with various bad guys and only a solitary turkey to keep your health topped up in a each area. Beat them all though and you’ll get a cape to customise your character in the game, which is a subtle but still entirely satisfying end result from a hard slog through the challenges.
So as you’ll have noticed, we liked Gauntlet. The co-op gameplay is everything it’s always been, the light hearted dialogue doesn’t get in the way of the core game itself, and there are enough demonic things to hack and slash at to keep even the most violent dungeon crawler happy. Grab a copy, grab a few mates and brace yourself for a very enjoyable experience.
Reviewed on PS4