My patience is about to die.
The name Gauntlet
alone brings forth all kinds of nerd sense memories. The scent of pizza and laundromats fills the nostrils, the image of quarters sitting on an arcade cabinet flashes into focus, the sound of Death stealing your life echoes in the ears and the taste of food you needed to eat…badly…is almost palpable. When those geek instincts kick in, they do so hard.
So the allure of Seven Sorrows is impossible to ignore. First, it's Gauntlet, and despite the anemic Dark Legacy, hope remains for those not yet crushed under the weight of the sequel factory. Second, "seven" is an interesting number and "sorrows" sounds like fun, making these "seven sorrows" worth investigating.
But sometimes, you have to ignore your inner geek. We wish we did when we tried playing this bad action game, because no matter how fond you are of its glorious past, there's simply no good reason to bother running this Gauntlet.
The story – yes, there's a story – is oddly complicated fort such a basic game. The seven sorrows of the title are held by an ethereal emperor, who imprisoned the four heroes in an effort to steal their immortality (though we didn't know they were immortal in the first place). The emperor had six high advisors to aid him in this fell deed, but that didn't stop his plan from failing and he from dying. Apparently that was the first sorrow, the other six being the advisors, or in-game bosses, who are just kicking everything's ass in the absence of the four great heroes. So you pick up the torch and guide the newly freed grunts through a laborious adventure to save the blah blah blah.
Indeed, Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows is little more than your typical hack and slash button-masher. The Warrior, Valkyrie, Elf, and Wizard all share the same fighting template, which includes attack, defend and attack harder. The latter is really just a strike that lifts enemies into the air to buy some time to wail on the other twenty mobs that spawned from generators right behind you. When you're swarmed, which will happen often, you can manage enemies with a couple of nuke spells or a global block-then-counter. Every class also has a weak ranged attack and a dodge, both of which you'll use just to keep your brain turning to slime from all the mindless hacking, since they usually do more harm than good.
Since all four characters are derived from the same control scheme, they all play identically. In an effort to add depth, every hero has an Offense, Health, and Mana Regen stat to juice up after every level you gain. The only difference between the four is that each hero starts the game with different XP in each stat category. After the first couple of levels, you can tweak the Wizard to be as good a tank as the Warrior, and vice versa.
The flexibility to make any class any way you want is good in theory, but only when there are enough stat categories to separate the classes. This simple design does not make for interesting customization decisions at all, rather leading to the destruction of the whole class system in the first place.
After each stage, you can use gold to buy new melee combos or spells, but well runs dry about halfway through the six-hour campaign. Even if you haven't had a few pet combos already fused into your brain from sheer repetition, the new skills you buy are so superficial that you might as well stick to what works and keep mashing away through the linear levels.
The environments are equally bland, ranging from trap-filled dungeons to wrecked towns and dark forests, and they all have the Gauntlet-specific enemy generators dotted throughout. It's odd that these generators have multiple stages of decay when you whack at them, but always produce the same level mob, which isn't like Gauntlet at all. And since you fight the same way all the time, the environments are cosmetic only.
When all the generators are destroyed, the game will spawn enemies endlessly out of the background, pushing you forever forward. The switch you need to hit or keys you need to grab are always laid directly in your path until the bosses arrive to provide a somewhat decent, if not cheesy, challenge.
As before, that challenge is best faced with some friends. Seven Sorrows pleasantly lets you play with three others online or off, though it's the same breed of hack and slash gameplay either way. With more than one person playing there's hardly a need to block or space yourself out, making the fighting that much more mindless. Each hero wreaks a tremendous amount of havoc, so all you need to do is stay in the middle and mashy mashy mashy through the same stages you endured in the single-player. What's most commendable in this is the fact that the framerate hardly ever suffers regardless of the madness onscreen.
The trade-off is grainy graphics and textures, though there are some neat particle effects and lighting auras. The gritty enemy models are detailed enough to tell what they are before you rip through them, and each of the heroes go through superficial armor upgrades that change their appearance from time to time, but that's all there is to it.
And yes, that old narrator and his endless play-by-play is back. "Red Warrior needs food, badly!" We know, dude, but in a game of this type with life bars dropping all the time, auditory nausea is the hardest enemy to fend off.
Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows reworks a couple of the shortcomings of its predecessor, but has gleaned nothing from its ancestry. The winding dungeon crawl the franchise defined long ago has been replaced with a lifeless linear action game's dash, one which will hopefully get back on the track its forefathers fought so hard to gain. Someone, it seems, shot the food again.