Gauntlet 4

Console:  Sega Genesis

Grade: C+

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 50th

Publisher:  Tengen

Year: 1993

Genre:  Attrition


The original Gauntlet didn’t have much of a story – there was a dungeon full of monsters and treasure, and you were in it.  Everything else was speculative – did the dungeons belong to some evil wizard you were trying to kill?  Were you just an ambitious treasure hunter?  Some kind of medieval exterminator?  We didn’t really know.  We didn’t really care, either.  It was 1985, and games didn’t need stories – if there was something we enjoyed doing back then, we didn’t need to invent a reason for doing it other than it was fun to do.  This probably explains Bon Jovi’s popularity as well as why so much of the population was using cocaine back in those days.  Hmmm, now that I think about it, the latter in that example probably explains the former.

Eight years and a few sequels later (though I’m still unconvinced of the actual existence of Gauntlet 3 – honestly, have you ever actually seen Gauntlet 3 anywhere?  I suspect it was originally a trick by the game company, that now lives on as some kind of bizarre internet prank), and things are different.  Well, not too different, actually.  Gauntlet 4 plays about the same as the original, and the story is… well, we’ll let the story speak for itself:

So yeah, this is the story of “The mystery protected by the old castle towers”.  Just rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?  Anyway, as in the earlier Gauntlet games, you have your choice of 4 different types of characters.  Let’s meet them:

Warrior!: Best known for needing food badly, the Warrior is a slow, powerful character, who can take a lot of punishment because, according to the game, he has really tough skin.  While that may be true, it seems like a really poor excuse for running around all these dungeons in his underpants.  I mean, if tough skin is already preventing a lot of damage, imagine what covering said tough skin with some chain mail would do.  You’d be practically invincible.  Maybe it’s not quite as macho, but who is going to question the toughness of someone who’s charging into a magic tower full of ghosts, demons and multiple grim reapers, simply because he decided to do so while wearing a little armor?

You should play as him because: By sacrificing speed in exchange for increased attack power and damage resistance, the Warrior is the ultimate tank, capable of clearing most levels through sheer attrition.  And when it comes right down to it, “sheer attrition” is pretty much the most apt description of Gauntlet’s gameplay ever written.

Valkyrie!: The Valkyrie actually has the best damage resistance in the game, thanks in part to her battle armor and probably also to the fact that she’s some kind of Norse supernatural being.  Her ranged attack of whipping swords at people isn’t particularly powerful, but she is good in close-quarters combat, meaning that she’s the ideal choice for anyone using a controller with a broken “shoot” button.

You should play as her because: With a nice mix of power, speed and toughness, the Valkyrie is probably the most well-rounded character… oh who are we trying to fool?  You’re going to pick her so you can spend the entire game staring at her boobs.

Wizard!: The original Gauntlet described the Wizard’s motivation for joining the quest as a mystery, known only to him.  Considering his age though, there’s a good chance that the Wizard had gotten confused and was actually attacking his own tower.  Nevertheless, he’s here again in Gauntlet 4, bringing his signature combination of slow speed,  poor damage resistance, and moderately effective attack power.  Arcade operators like to refer to the Wizard as “the gold mine”.

You should play as him because: Despite being a weaker character in combat, the Wizard makes up for it with his prowess in magic.  Any potion the Wizard uses will completely clear the screen of enemies, making him a very powerful character, especially in a supporting role.  No, we’re kidding.  Potions come up once in a blue moon, and they usually get shot by accident before you can pick them up, anyway.  You should never pick the Wizard.

Elf!: The Elf is the character of choice for finesse players, sacrificing power for quickness.  Not only can the Elf run fast, but he also has a high rate of fire, allowing him to run and dodge, while wearing down his enemies with a quick succession of shots.  Yeah, good luck with that technique in the cramped, crowded dungeons of Gauntlet, where seemingly infinite monsters spawn constantly, and there’s rarely much open space to avoid them.

You should play as him because: Somebody else will probably have already claimed the Warrior and Valkyrie, and he’s still better than the goddamned Wizard.

Once you’ve picked your character, it’s off to solve the, er, “Mystery protected by the old castle towers”.  The gameplay will be immediately recognizable to anyone who played the original Gauntlet. This is especially true if you choose the arcade mode, which actually is the original Gauntlet.  Not that I’d blame anyone for not immediately recognizing a game that they probably hadn’t played since the Reagan presidency, during a time while they were quite possibly coked out of their mind.

The heart of the game, however, is in the all-new quest mode, which takes the gameplay of the original  but adds various RPG elements to the mix.  For those of you unfamiliar with Gauntlet, it’s kind of like a simplified version of Diablo.  And for those of you who are unfamiliar with both Diablo AND Gauntlet, well, I’m not sure what you’re getting out of this article, since you apparently aren’t that interested in old video games, but your readership is appreciated nonetheless.

Gauntlet has always been known as kind of an action/overhead shooter game, but that doesn’t really give enough credit to it’s level designs, which have always involved a fair amount of puzzle solving.  Admittedly, a lot of these “puzzles” involve simply killing monsters over and over until you find a hidden switch that opens up the path to the exit, but there have always been a fair number of head-scratching levels in each game that produce a satisfying “Aha!” moment when you figure them out.  That idea has actually been expanded in Gauntlet 4 thanks to the “tower” concept.  Now instead of just trying to figure out how to get from one level to the next one, you may have to travel back and forth between multiple levels in order to open up a pathway to the final area of each tower.  It’s actually a pretty cool idea, and not something a lot of other games were doing at the time.

Finally, the other thing that’s different from previous Gauntlet games is that you can upgrade the equipment for your characters, using all that previously useless treasure you’ve been picking up to buy better weapons and armor.  In the case of the Warrior and the Wizard, I’m assuming better armor means even tougher skin and less flammable robes, respectively.  How much satisfaction you get out of buying these upgrades is questionable though, as buying a new sword really just means “do more damage”.  People make fun of MMORPG players for what appears to be spending countless hours playing just so they can upgrade from the yellow armor to the green armor (overlooking whatever bonuses the green armor offers), but at least they get the satisfaction of a new look in addition to their upgraded capabilities.  In Gauntlet 4, each upgrade is really just a moderate boost to your stats.  Whether or not this is a big deal for you depends on just how brutally you need to kick the collective asses of a room full of ghosts.

But then again, who doesn’t want to really, really kick a ghost’s ass?