You feel that tingling in your mind? That feeling that you forgotten something, yet this sense of nostalgia tingles inside you and never goes away? That is the feeling of games from your past, games that are now obscure from the public eye. Some are herald classics, others are better left in the landfill, but while they are no longer in the public eye, they still live on in some way. Each week, I plan on embracing that nostalgia, so to speak, and review one of these forgotten games in a series I like to call “From The Well.” This week, we look at Gauntlet: Dark Legacy.
Picture it, arcades in the 1980’s. You’re on your favorite machine pounding the already slicked joystick for the millionth time while repeatedly tapping the nearby buttons down in rapid succession, wearing them thin to a breaking point. Your friends are by your side, repeating the same motions as you navigate the maze-like levels of the famous sword and sorcery epic, “Gauntlet” for the first time, battling blocky orcs and imps with a blocky wizard and warrior. The taunting announcer cries you need food, your seemingly plight of being cornered in the level, or predicts your eventual death, until you feed the mechanical monster more quarters to continue your quest.
Gauntlet has always occupied a corner of the arcades since 1985, and is really one of the few enduring fixtures in the dwindling arcade environment today. When it got a graphical upgrade in 1998, Gauntlet spawned a new interest on the console market, first on the Nintendo 64, then finally across the board on all platforms, such as Playstation 2 and the Gamecube.
Gauntlet: Dark Legacy is actually an amalgam of the arcade and console versions of the game, featuring eight initial characters, eight different worlds of varying difficulty, and the same objective in each world, find the exit of the maze-like arena, fight the bosses at the end of each world, and uncover the thirteen different rune stones to unlock the final confrontation.
While Midway attempted to add a storyline to the game, it is paper thin at best and fantasy clichéd at it’s worst. Thankfully, the game is still fun to play, at least with other people, and the minor tweaks in the game have made it more of a strategic play through than ever before. The biggest improvement is the RPG-light level up system, that has the characters evolve and become more powerful as the game progresses, giving a sense of accomplishment as the difficulty curve in the game rises from the simplistic to the freaking impossible. I also like the store options, which allow you to save and sell powerups found in the game, and purchase items you may need, like potions, keys, and a boost to your main stats, like strength and speed.
Despite these good additives, the hack and slash dungeon formula is still the same, and by the same I mean literally unchanged since the 1980’s. Oh sure, the graphics have been updated to incorporate 3-D traps, monsters, potions, powerups, and the like. And the overall style is pretty good; but there are a lot of flaws in the gameplay. Namely, without another person by your side, there is no point to the game.
Oh it could be fun for a bit, going through a sprawling crypt by yourself, but the whole point of the game is to share a camaraderie with friends or family as you traverse through the dangerous waters of that aforementioned crypt. I did play this with my brother for a little, about five different levels, and that was the most enjoyment I got from the game. This is a multi-player experience through and through, and the only way the game should be played is such, or else you notice the flaws in the gameplay, mainly the repetition.
Every single enemy, item, and switch is a carbon copy of another in the game. It was like the developers copied and pasted different skins on them all to make the illusion of variety. You got the guys popping out of the walls, archers and suicide bombers littered across the areas, a single, linear path that branches off slightly to help in uncovering secret areas, but that’s about it. Once you know the route to the exit, or the secret doors, or the hidden rune stones, nothing is going to change. This makes it a game that really is a one-time play through at best, unless you want to impress your friends with a speed run with your highly leveled character.
And while the graphics are at best blocky and have little variation to the enemy types or the items in the level, each themed level looks like it belongs to the world it’s attached to; the deserts have an Egyptian aesthetic to them, the forests are sprawling treetops, and the Dream world is a cluster**** on the senses with floating platforms and moving pictures all over the place. It is at least pretty to look at.
One thing that isen’t pretty is the sound. It is generic music for the otherwise cool looking levels, tons of sound effects that mimic the old school arcade game, and the bane of everyone’s existence, the damn announcer. Yes, it’s nostalgic, but it is so unnecessary and it gets old after he pipes out “Yellow Wizard needs food badly” fifty times in one tough level. He chastises you enough that you want to just throw the controller at the machine to shut him up, a bad idea, mind you.
So Gauntlet: Dark Legacy is really the last true game for Gauntlet. It was the culmination of the dungeon crawler, the legacy of an ancient game brought about to a modern playing console like the Gamecube. While Gauntlet has long been dormant since the horrendous Seven Sorrows, it still has enough luster for people to take up the quest together, at the very least for nostalgia’s sake. In the end, Gauntlet will likely be forgotten, like the arcade machines that originally began the dungeon crawls decades ago. But for those who remember the quest, bound by friendship for the remainder of their days, the glory of the game will never go away.
Final Score- C