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Like many titles on this list so far, I seem to have only a passing resemblance when it comes to Gauntlet. Do I know the game, Gauntlet, or do I know the word gauntlet...? I'll have to go with me not knowing the game, because it's probably the more likely.
Gauntlet is an arcade co-op hack and slashy dungeon crawler where you and three allies can team up to grind through level after level of enemies absolutely intent on hunting you down and halting your progress.
Will their overwhelming numbers lead to your downfall? Will you not be able to find the level exit and see time get the better of you? Will you remember to not shoot the food?
While disappointed I couldn't play the arcade original, the NES port of Gauntlet will easily suffice for me. It's not as flashy, it doesn't have a narrator giving you hints, but it does have wave upon wave of enemy all homing in on you, trying to stop you from making any progress.
In each level, your aim is to find the exit, and will have to do so while avoiding or defeating enemies of all kinds, collecting treasure for points, food for health and potions for special effects, finding keys to open doors and more.
From the very beginning you learn that your opponents are attracted to you like moths to a flame, and while easy to defeat - just spam the fire button in their direction - it won't be until you destroy their spawner that you'll be absolutely safe from them.
You also learn that the levels can be a little maze-like in their design, involving paths that lead to doors that can't be opened until you travel down paths that lead to keys. Some levels even involve destructible walls which will open up the area for both you and your many, many foes.
All of this dungeon crawling is against a timer that represents your health. You need to get moving, and that often involves moving into a bunch of enemies. You can goad them into a particular spot to make things easier for you, with choke points and bottlenecks working wonders, but if you don't push forward through them, towards their spawner or beyond, then you're not going to get very far.
After a while, the formula gets a little samey. The levels are different, offering their own small challenges to deal with, but a group of enemies is still a group of enemies, and if they're not going to be attacking you at range like you inevitably are at them, then they'll barely register as an obstacle for you to overcome.
It feels good to mow them all down, even if you incur slowdown - both in terms of lost health and too much happening on screen at once - but it wasn't long before I was just speeding through the levels to avoid combat where possible, just to see what else Gauntlet offered in the next level.
I would imagine it is so much better in multiplayer, but that's not to say it is a game to avoid if playing solo. The learning curve was pancake flat; it's one of the easiest games to get into that I can remember, despite arguably looking complicated.
Gauntlet is colourful for what it is, too. It may take the fantasy character archetypes from every fantasy story ever, They have their own strengths and weaknesses, so grab your favourite before anyone else does, but with the ease at how the enemies can be dispatched here, those archetypes are ultimately used to distinguish who is who at any given point.
I didn't know what to expect when I played Gauntlet, but I think if I did have some inkling, I'd probably say they surpassed those expectations. Because it's relatively bright and arcadey, rather than a grim realistic affair, it's really enticing and approachable. Figuring out how to play is a piece of cake, and there are plenty of levels for you to get through to make playing it worth your time.
Gauntlet was inspired by - some might say cloned from - an earlier game called Dandy. The developer of Dandy later sold the rights to a studio who would go on to make a Gauntlet clone, and get sued by Atari for doing so.
Gauntlet, developed by Atari Games, first released in 1985.
Version played: NES, 1987, via emulation.
Version watched: Arcade, 1985 (Media Pool)