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The Original Throwdown Is Back

There's been a few Gauntlet remakes over the years, but September 22nd has seen the release of one that differs from most those in that it's actually quite good. Granted, Gauntlet (2014) not quite classic Gauntlet, there's no clavichord music to be found, and there has been a fundamental reinvention of every aspect of the original game mechanic; this is Gauntlet in name only, all resemblances being a respectful montage.
Gauntlet (2014) is closer to Diablo III but with even less RPG mechanics (and Diablo III was already a bit overly streamlined there).  Gauntlet (2014) has no allusions towards being anything other than an action game, so it eschews loot drops for just collecting gold that can be cashed in for cosmetic costume pieces and artifacts (two can be equipped at a time, potions are used to activate one for a temporary benefit).  Aside from that, Gauntlet (2014) is pure fast-paced hack-and-slash action, quite well executed.

The most important thing to know about Gauntlet (2014) is probably that the classic four heroes (Warrior, Elf, Wizard, and Valkyrie) play fundamentally different.
  • The Warrior (Thor) is a melee brawler who hews his way through enemies with broad strokes of his axe, staggering most opponents with every swipe.
  • The Valkyrie (Thyra) has different approach to melee, focused on pinpoint spear maneuvers with a bit of Captain America's shield work thrown in for good measure.
  • The Elf (Questor) is quick, able to tumble about the battlefield, filling foes with his infinite arrows via weakly-drawn bow up close, or sniping them with a stronger pull from afar.  He supplements this with bombs.
  • The Wizard (Merlin) is the most interesting of all, because he can switch between a surprisingly-wide variety of flame, frost, and lightning spells in an almost-but-not-quite Magika style of button combinations. 
It feels as though there is significantly more difference between how these four heroes play than there are in the classes found in your average Diablo clone, and this should do much for the replayability of the game.
The main critique I have about the character selection is that only one player can play each hero, for a maximum of four players a session.  If somebody has already selected the Wizard, but you want to play him, too bad!  The only way to reliably play the character you want is to play single player, but the game is better balanced for a multiplayer experience.  I usually get stuck playing the Warrior because all the other heroes are bit more interesting (good thing Thor is a powerhouse).  Gauntlet II (1986) has already demonstrated that this class restriction is unnecessary.

A solid game, but not a perfect one.

Perhaps the most glaring omission in Gauntlet (2014) is that there is no drop-in gameplay. You either sit around, bored in a lobby, and wait for players to join, or you can go in undermanned with less than the full four players.  After the release-day rush, chances are you will need to know three friends who want to play with you in order to get a full group.  This is not 1990, lobbies are so passe, and mid-game drop-in would have made for a far better alternative.

The post-map-completion GUI could use some touch up.  At the end of each map, gold and kills are racked up, and your achievements earned are displayed.  This takes so long that most people do not have the patience for it.   If you skip to the end of all those stats and the host isn't ready, you end up looking at an empty map for however many seconds it takes for the host to join you: very tacky.  Maybe all those stats should have been on the map loading screen, I do not think Bandai can sue for stat displays on loading screens.
Gauntlet (2014) is certainly a pretty game.  The use of lighting and shadows is particularly exemplary.
Rarely, a situation manifests in which progress is impossible. Maybe a key has fallen off the map, or something did not trigger that should have.  Either way, this is a show-stopping bug: the players can no longer complete the map and just run around in circles until they die or are forced to quit.  Fortunately, this is rare, but it really needs to be fixed before Arrowhead Game Studios moves on to their next game.

All of the attempts to add social media to the game have already been sabotaged.  The Internet-wide scoreboards are populated by people who obviously just hacked the memory.  You really cannot have scoreboards like this without some kind of playback evaluation software at work, and so these scoreboards should probably just be removed in a future patch.

A great stocking stuffer come early.

When all is said and done, Gauntlet (2014) is a decidedly fun romp with tight, well-balanced gameplay.  It's delightfully refreshing to have a well-wrought game where "hard" mode is, indeed, hard and not just some sort of casual pandering.  This as genuine game worth playing.

Granted, it's pretty short, you could easily finish all the maps in a day, but there's a lot of replay here as you play through the maps again on higher difficulties in order to play each of the four characters and unlock more outfits and artifacts. The $20 release-day price tag is pretty reasonable, and it will be a shoe-in on a half-off sale a few months from now.

Here's hoping for a Gauntlet II (2015?) that can deliver something closer to perfection.


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