Genre: Action/RPG Developer: Atari Games Publisher: Tengen Players: 1-4 Released: 1993
There’s something to be said for the classics, those games that remain fresh and inviting, no matter how much time passes or how advanced technology gets. They never lose that special quality that made them so successful in the first place, and sometimes, they actually get better with age.
Gauntlet definitely fits into that category. Ported to virtually every piece of hardware short of graphic calculators, Ed Logg’s multi-player showcase is still thrilling gamers on Xbox Live Arcade. Genesis owners, benefiting from Tengen’s staunch support, got perhaps one of the best versions ever released. Yes, you heard me right; I went there.
What is it exactly about Gauntlet IV that is so great? Well friends, I can sum that up in two words: Quest Mode. Somewhere, someone at Tengen decided that the classically awesome coin-op original could use something special for the Genesis release. The inclusion of four-player support, allowing all the main characters to play together for some incredibly fun times, wasn’t enough. No, they had to go and add an RPG-like extra game to it and give players more for their money than anyone could have ever guessed.
Gee, sounds like I’m gushing, doesn’t it? Perhaps. I’m a sucker for the classics, and Gauntlet is one of my all-time favorites. I’m especially fond of the Genesis version because it’s so darn well done. On top of the incredible rendition of the arcade classic, the new Quest Mode (officially titled Episode IV: The Castle of Succession) brings so much more to the game you would never otherwise expect from Gauntlet that it leaves you somewhat puzzled at first. It’s a strange mix actually, in a peanut butter-in-my-chocolate sort of way. The gameplay and premise is still the same: you tackle dozens of dungeons, killing monsters and collecting treasure. What Tengen has done is wrap a storyline and some RPG elements around it. Tackle four towers in an effort to break the seal around an ancient castle. Each tower has a coat of arms that’s needed break the seal, but they’re guarded by dragons. Furthermore, you need to spring a special trap in each floor to be able to access the final area where the dragons reside.
The treasure that you scoop up on your journey can be used to buy the ability-enhancing potions that were scattered about in the main game. These effects are now permanent, and are pretty pricey. Shops also sell weapons that increase your shot power & speed, magic, foot speed, and armor. Experience points also help increase these stats, as well as increase your hit points. Even cooler are the extra items, like heal rings that keep your energy from draining and a warp wing for those desperate exits. The four towers are all element-themed (fire, water, air, wind), and their trap-laden levels will take you quite a while to master, so having the best equipment is a must.
Populating each level is the standard assortment of Gauntlet baddies, but there have been some changes to the layouts themselves. Special tiles are now strategically (malevolently?) placed and can really wrack the ol’ noggin. Slip tiles send you skidding into enemy hordes and no-shot tiles force you to resort to hand-to-hand combat. This small addition brings some great variety to the established formula and really makes the game more challenging.
And challenging it is, my friends. You can’t just whup the start button for infinite life points; the ceiling is 18k. You want more than that? Eat the food, don’t shoot it! Though some may deride the health cap, I applaud it. Quest Mode gives you plenty of ways to survive, so button mashing your way to immortality really isn’t needed.
My only gripe has to do with the massive passwords involved. Yep, that’s plural, as in more than one password. Quest Mode gives you one for your stats and equipment and one for your actual level progress. They’re very large and prone to misspellings, so either be damn sure you’ve copied them correctly or go the emulation route and use those handy save states. I normally don’t mention the latter method, but in this case you might be better off with it.
There are also two other modes worth mentioning. Battle Mode is a primitive form of deathmatch where the four heroes can fight each other for bragging rights, and Record Mode is a single-player variation of the tried and true time attack. Neither will take up as much of your time as the Quest Mode, but they’re pretty fun in their own right.
Essentially, what you’ve got here is one of the best versions, if not the definitive version, of Gauntlet. The single-player game is massive and engaging, and the four-player arcade classic is still as much fun as ever. The Genesis does a great job of bringing this quarter muncher home, and anyone with a multi-tap and some pals absolutely must have this game in their collection.