Gauntlet (1985 video game)
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Arcade game flyer
|Publisher(s)||Atari Games, U.S. Gold|
|Genre(s)||Hack and slash, beat-'em-up|
|Mode(s)||Single-player, 4-player multiplayer|
|Display||Raster, standard resolution (Used: 336 × 240)|
The players, up to four at once in the arcade version, select among four playable fantasy-based characters: Thor the Warrior, Merlin the Wizard, Thyra the Valkyrie, or Questor the Elf. Each character has his or her own unique strength and weaknesses. For example, the Warrior is strongest in hand-to-hand combat, the Wizard has the most powerful magic, the Valkyrie has the best armour and the Elf is the fastest in movement.
Upon selecting a playable character, the gameplay is set within a series of top-down, third-person perspective mazes where the object is to find and touch the designated exit in every level. An assortment of special items can be located in each level that increase player's character's health, unlock doors, gain more points and magical potions that can destroy all of the enemies on screen.
The enemies are an assortment of fantasy-based monsters, including ghosts, grunts, demons, lobbers, sorcerers and thieves. Each enters the level through specific generators, which can be destroyed. While there are no bosses in the game, the most dangerous enemy is "Death", who can not only drain a character's health, but is difficult to destroy.
As the game progresses, higher levels of skill are needed to reach the exit, with success often depending on the willingness of the players to cooperate by sharing food and luring monsters into places where they can be engaged and slaughtered more conveniently. While contact with enemies reduces the player's health, it also slowly drains on its own, thus creating a time limit. When a character's health reaches zero, that character dies. The character can be revived in place with full health by spending a game credit (i.e. inserting a coin) within a certain short time window after it died. This allows even the least proficient players to keep playing indefinitely, if they are willing to keep inserting coins.
Aside from the ability to have up to four players at once, the game is also noted for the narrator's voice, which was produced by a Texas Instruments TMS5220C speech chip. The narrator frequently makes statements repeating the game's rules, including: "Shots do not hurt other players – yet", "Remember, don't shoot food!", "Elf – shot the food!", and "Warrior needs food – badly!" Occasionally, the narrator will comment on the battle by saying, "I've not seen such bravery!" or "Let's see you get out of here!" A memorable statement of the game occurred when a player's "life force" points fell below 200: "Your life force is running out", "Elf needs food" or "Valkyrie ... is about to die!"
To accommodate up to four players, the control panel is wider than other standard uprights. Each player has a joystick and two buttons, one for "Fire" (ranged attack) and one for "Magic". The Magic button also starts the game. After Gauntlet's release, other games started using this design, so it was a popular conversion target for newer games after it had its run.
There were some skilled players who could play a hypothetically unlimited amount of time on one credit, especially with the Warrior and Wizard, and thus causing the arcades to lose money. A ROM update was released, reducing the "extra shot power" and "extra shot speed" powerup bonus for Warrior and Wizard, and adding a new points-based difficulty counter to the game. The difficulty counter made the game more difficult, in 16,384-point steps, which removed more designated food from the levels, and made the monsters respawn faster. However, this means that on the default game difficulty of 4, it was almost impossible to pass levels 1–7 without dying, and level 4 was designed so that some of the food drops would block the monsters from swarming the player. This was because the game removed some of the "default" food for playing solo; on difficulty level 0, at least one food placement was removed from every single level (at low scores), and on difficulty 4, two or three food drops were removed. This made the game too difficult, even for the best players, unless they could find a machine set to difficulty 0. Instead, the game gave bonus food for three or four players playing together. (Three players gave all of the default food, while four gave extra food in random locations.)
This was later refined for Gauntlet 2, so that Valkyrie and Elf would not receive extra food removal penalties, and only Warrior and Wizard would receive the extra penalties. Valkyrie and Elf would receive all of the default food that the current difficulty setting plus points difficulty scaling would allow, although Valkyrie would receive the fewest food penalties at higher (non-point based) difficulty levels. Elf would get some food removed at difficulty levels 6 and 7. The game still gave extra food for three or four players playing together.
Controversy arose after the release of the game in the arcade and its subsequent port to the Nintendo Entertainment System. Ed Logg, the co-creator of Asteroids and Centipede, is credited for Original Game Design of Gauntlet in the arcade version, as well as the 1987 NES release version. After its release, John Palevich threatened a lawsuit, asserting that the original concept for the game was from Dandy (later Dandy Dungeon), a game for the Atari 800 computer written by Palevich in 1983. The conflict was settled without any suit being filed, with Atari Games doing business as Tengen allegedly awarding Palevich a Gauntlet game machine. Logg is taken off this credit in versions subsequent to the 1987 NES release. While he is credited as "special thanks" through 1986, his name is entirely removed from credits on later releases. Logg currently claims no involvement in the NES release. The game Dandy which was the basis for the threatened lawsuit was later reworked by Atari and re-published for the Atari 2600, Atari 7800 and Atari XE as Dark Chambers in 1988, subsequent to the release of Gauntlet II in 1987.
Ports and re-releases
Due to its success in the arcades, Gauntlet was ported to several home systems of the day. These platforms include DOS, Apple II, Atari 8-bit, MSX, NES, Atari Lynx, Apple IIGS, Sega Master System, Mega Drive/Genesis (as Gauntlet 4), Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum, among others. In 2003, an emulated version of Gauntlet was included in Midway Arcade Treasures; a compilation of arcade games available for the Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox consoles and Windows. For some machines, only Gauntlet II was converted, since it was considered to be more advanced than the original. In 1990, the original Game Boy received a version of Gauntlet II. 16-bit conversions (Atari ST and Mega Drive/Genesis) had similar sound and graphics as the original game, and retained the four-player mode (lesser machines only allowed a maximum of two players).
The NES version was a departure from the arcade version, keeping only the basic game formula and cast of characters. A hundred entirely new levels were constructed for this version, which added a definite quest; the goal was to retrieve the "Sacred Orb" located in the 100th level, which could only be accessed by collecting portions of a password hidden in certain "clue rooms" scattered throughout the first 99 levels. Power-up attributes that granted extra shot power and faster speed could be carried over from level to level, and a password system allowed the player to save their character's progress. The NES Gauntlet was one of only three Tengen cartridges to be released as officially-licensed Nintendo cartridges (the others being Pac-Man and R.B.I. Baseball); it was later re-released as an unlicensed game following Tengen's split from Nintendo.
The Mega Drive/Genesis version, which was titled Gauntlet in Japan and released in North America and Europe as Gauntlet IV, features a totally original soundtrack and three new game modes in addition to an Arcade Mode which is a port of the original game:
- Quest Mode – A story mode where the player must defeat the four towers and solve the mystery of the ancient castle; weapons can be bought with collected gold from merchants in the main hub area, where one can also choose which tower to take on next. The player can gain experience points to increase their character's stats and passwords can be used to continue.
- Battle Mode – Where multiple players fight against each other to the death. Maps can include teleporters/monsters/items etc. Players who go into exits are eliminated from the round.
- Record Mode – A single-player variation of the Arcade Mode with some variations such as using passwords to continue. The player's character cannot die in this mode, although points will be subtracted for every 500 health points lost.
A Nintendo DS version of the original Gauntlet was being developed by Backbone Entertainment. This version of the game was to feature an entirely new 3D graphical engine, online four-player mode, and voice chat capabilities. According to Nintendo's website, its release date is "TBD". However, as of 2014, it remains unreleased and, and has presumably been shelved.
A programming glitch in the original DOS version of the game released in 1988 rendered Level 59 unbeatable because an impassable wall was between the party and the exit to the level. The only way to get off the level and continue playing was to wait for five minutes so that the walls could turn into exits and the player could continue playing until the game ended at Level 118. Level 118 also had a programming glitch that no monsters would spawn out of any of the generators. The game would exit to DOS once the player beat Level 118.
A test mode in the original game conversion for the ZX Spectrum allowed the player to walk through any wall by holding down the "symbol shift" key. It was kept in the released version and was widely reported in contemporary magazines.
Gauntlet was released for the Game Boy Advance on one of DSI Games two packs, alongside Rampart. In addition, Gauntlet and Gauntlet II are among the emulated games that can be found in Midway Arcade Treasures 1 and 2, respectively, for various modern console systems, as well as Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits and Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Atari Collection 2. It was also released for GameCube. In 2012, Gauntlet was included in the compilation Midway Arcade Origins.
Gauntlet: The Deeper Dungeons
Gauntlet: The Deeper Dungeons is an expansion pack for the original ports of Gauntlet with 512 new levels and required the original program. It was released in 1987 by the British company U.S. Gold in the UK and Europe, and Mindscape in the USA. It was released for Amstrad CPC, MSX, Atari ST, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. It was developed by Gremlin Graphics Software Ltd.
Many of its levels were entries in a competition throughout Europe in which only ten winners were awarded prizes, "A Gauntlet T-Shirt and a copy of the program for their computers." The contest was announced in the instructions of many of the ported games: "In early 1987, U.S. Gold will release an expansion cassette for Gauntlet containing hundreds of new levels and treasure rooms. You can have the chance to have your own maze included on this tape!" The levels are presented randomly and its artwork is the side panel artwork of the arcade cabinet with only the main characters shown. The enemies were removed from the image and replaced with a pink background.
Many reviewers noted that the levels were much harder than those in the original game, although the consensus was that it was not quite as good as the first game or the (then) newly released arcade sequel.
Reception and legacy
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The Macintosh version of the game was reviewed in 1989 in Dragon #150 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave the game 4 out of 5 stars. Computer and Video Games praised the accuracy of the Amstrad version, and said that it had "great graphics, good sounds, and perfect playability." Crash praised the smooth and fast scrolling, and the longevity, with Avenger being listed as the only alternative. In their Master System review, ACE said that people of all ages could quickly master the controls and tasks. The Spectrum version was the biggest selling game of 1986, and was voted number 39 in the Your Sinclair Readers' Top 100 Games of All Time.
At the Golden Joystick Awards in London, Gauntlet won Game of the Year, and was runner-up in the category of Arcade-Style Game of the Year.
Of the Mega Drive release in 1993, MegaTech said that "the action is flawless" and had stood the test of time well. They continued that it was "a brilliant game, and one that warrants immediate attention". Mega praised the longevity of the game, saying it was "huge fun and a must-buy". They placed the game at #19 in their list of the best Mega Drive games of all time.
Over a decade after release, the Official UK PlayStation Magazine noted that they "spent many a night hunched over a fag-stained Gauntlet machine", but said that the limitations had become apparent in the late 1990s.
In popular culture
The line "Red warrior needs food badly!" was named the third best game line ever in the January 2002 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly.
The seventh track from Five Iron Frenzy's album The End is Near is entitled "The Wizard Needs Food Badly," and contains audio snippets from Gauntlet.
One of the B-sides on We Are Scientists Chick Lit EP contains a song called "Gauntlet" in reference to the game. Their album Brain Thrust Mastery contains many video game titles for songs such as "Lethal Enforcer," "Altered Beast" and "Ghouls" (from Ghouls 'n Ghosts).
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