Do kids still go to arcades? Do they plan to go together to play co-op games like those of us of a certain age did in the ‘80s and ‘90s? Yes, dear readers, I’m old enough to remember when going to an arcade with a pocketful of quarters was a social activity. Sure, you could play “Donkey Kong” or “Pac-Man” by yourself, but if you wanted to get anywhere in “Gauntlet,” you best have a friend with you or your character would “need food, badly” shortly.
“Gauntlet” was a personal obsession. I loved the deceptive simplicity of it all as waves of enemies descended on a quartet of dungeon crawlers. There was a beautiful basic structure to “Gauntlet” that felt like life—find the key, open the door, kill the enemies, find another key, open another door, kill more enemies. If you were lucky, you got a treasure every once in a while, but “Gauntlet” was about survival and destruction. Kill and kill and kill. The folks at “Diablo” perfected the structure erected by “Gauntlet” decades earlier, and that’s still the top-down shooter to beat, but “Gauntlet: Slayer Edition,” now available for the PS4 via the PlayStation Network from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, proves there’s still life in this thought-dead franchise. You best call your friends and warn them.“Gauntlet” immediately looks familiar but also has been clearly updated for modern audiences. The four characters are essentially the same and operate in expected ways—Warrior, Wizard, Valkyrie, and Elf.
After experimenting (and dying) a lot with the bruiser Warrior, I switched to the Elf, knowing that I would be alone on most of my journey and that he has the protection of a long-range weapon and more speed than his stronger brother. For the next several hours, my Elf braved tunnels, catacombs, and caves, and killed THOUSANDS of demons, ogres, monsters, wizards, and other such evil things lurking below. The structure of “Gauntlet” is simple enough. It’s occasionally enlivened by a bit of puzzle-solving, but it is mostly about wave combat—taking out enemies to clear a room to progress. Focus on the spawners—the devices that come out of the ground and create more bad guys. Take them out as quickly as possible. And move. Constantly.
Instead of the basic point and shoot structure of the arcade game, WBIE has enhanced “Gauntlet” with new weapons, talismans, relics, etc. with which you can customize your character to fit your playing style. To do so, you’ll have to find treasure and coins in-game, which makes the first 30-40 minutes with “Gauntlet” its most difficult, which one could argue is a flaw. There was an early level on which I died at least two dozen times, whereas I rarely died at all in the second half of the campaign, after I had upgraded a weapon and a relic to make me deadlier and faster. There’s also a natural learning curve in a game like this, but that first frustrating hour with “Gauntlet” nearly turned me off to the game altogether, thinking it was too hard to complete by yourself. It’s not. Still, there are odd difficulty spikes throughout the game, along with some levels that feel like afterthoughts. My hope is that this “Slayer Edition” is just the start and that the developers can improve on the model in the future if they want to compete with “Diablo.”
For those likely to get bored by the admittedly repetitive structure and thin narrative of “Gauntlet,” WBIE offers some nice bells and whistles for your $19.99, including daily Colosseum challenges, in which different restrictions and rules will alter your gameplay. Of course, there’s also Endless mode, which is pretty self-explanatory. Survive as long as you possibly can. Enemies will keep coming until you can’t take it anymore. Can you take it? And you don’t even need a bag of quarters to keep the pain coming.