Format: Dreamcast Genre: Hack and Slash Released: 2000 Developer: Midway
I have to admit that I’ve never played the original Gauntlet, but from what I understand, Gauntlet Legends is a fairly faithful simulacrum of the gameplay of the original, albeit with fancy(ish) 3D graphics. The basic set up is this: kill the monsters, find the key, open the door, then repeat. It’s not big, it’s not clever, but it’s a helluva laugh with four players.
Multiplayer is the key to this game – playing on your own is a poor affair, and the repetition of the gameplay quickly begins to grate. There’s some satisfaction to be had from watching your character become more and more powerful as they gain experience, but nothing can disguise the fact that you’re basically traipsing from one point to another whilst smacking goblins in the face, the tedium of which is only occasionally alleviated by the almost equally tedious hunt for a rune or key.
However, the game really comes into its own when you add another three players into the mix. The repetitive trawl through wave after wave of baddies suddenly becomes a joyous frenzy of high-spirited button bashing and camaraderie. Team organization quickly develops, with the stronger, short-range characters (barbarian, dwarf, etc.) taking the lead and the weaker, long-range characters (magician, archer, etc.) bringing up the rear. Instinctively, you find yourself manouvering to protect the weaker characters, and an unspoken agreement forms that one of you will hunt for keys and switches while the others hold off the deluge of enemies. In a nutshell, tactics and depth that are entirely absent in the single player game begin to emerge in multiplayer, and this is the reason why the game has made it onto this list.
I was quite surprised by just how good Legends is in multiplayer – I picked up the game for a pittance during a sale and was pretty disappointed on my first go. But when I took the Dreamcast round to a friend’s house for games night, this simple hack and slasher was an instant hit. Other, supposedly superior DC games (Soul Calibur, Quake III) didn’t even get a look in, and we ended up playing Gauntlet for pretty much the whole night. And then we did it again the next week. Not bad for a ‘subpar button-masher that’s neither interesting nor nostalgic’ (Gamespot).
I think the key to this game’s success is that it fosters co-operation and competitiveness in equal measures, leading to some highly entertaining moments. Inevitably, one of the players will take an almighty kicking, leading to him* pathetically bleating that he ‘deserves the next food’ as the game announcer dramatically booms ‘PLAYER ONE NEEDS FOOD BADLY‘. Obviously, the game requires a team effort, therefore logic dictates that the other players should protect the stricken Player 1 and give up the next available food for his sustenance. However, you also need to take into account the potential entertainment factor: why give Player 1 the food when you can just stand next to it, wait until he’s almost upon it, then take it for yourself, laughing heartily as his bleating and protesting goes up another octave?
The same underhand rivalry applies to collecting gold – every group has at least one player who will happily wander off and nick all the gold while everyone else is busy fighting, leading to hoots of derision (and possibly a dead arm for the gold thief) as the scores are totted up at the end of the level.
However, the one thing that seems to unite the group and put a temporary end to the backstabbing is the emergence of Death. Every now and then, rather than yielding a nice lump of gold or a tasty beef joint, a treasure chest will spew forth Death itself, who will then proceed to chase the panicked players around the screen. Death can only be defeated by the use of magic, so any player with magic credits left is expected to heroically step forward and protect the others… Unless, of course, the one who opened the chest is the gold thief, in which case the others might take sinister pleasure in watching his health being drained away by the Grim Reaper.
Yep, if there’s one thing that Gauntlet Legends does with aplomb, it’s letting you know who your friends really are.
*Apologies go out to all the ladies for the use of the masculine pronoun here; my Gauntlet sessions were inevitably conducted in an all-male environment.
(Screenshots from www.gamershell.com)