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Gauntlet Legends (PlayStation) artwork

Gauntlet Legends (PlayStation) review

"Ye olde introduction "

Ye olde introduction

I deeply love ye olde Gauntlet games, and they've passed into true classic status since their debut in arcades in 1985. And rightfully so! The addictive quasi-overhead dungeon storming 4-player action, the unprecedented graphic, sonic and atmospheric appeal - to me, Gauntlet has always epitomised in some form what arcade gaming is all about.

Once we hit the 1990s, it seemed that all game developers started dusting off their old properties and giving them makeovers - with highly variable results. Mercifully, 1998's Gauntlet Legends (which I'll now call GL) was one of the very happy stories. It turned out to be a highly reverent retake of the original game which didn't mess with the core elements. You choose to play a Warrior, Wizard, Valkyrie or Archer (formerly the Elf), then storm mazes collecting keys and treasure whilst wiping out hordes of relentless monsters and the generators which spawn them. To these classic goodies were added the glories of varied terrain (the original games are entirely dungeonbound), a big pile of new monsters, powers and weapons, maintenance-free RPG elements and a quest. And of course flashy 3D graphics and a roving camera viewpoint.

Move forward a couple more years and the beefy home consoles of the day start to get their own versions of GL. And I'm pleased to report that Playstation GL is essentially a success, providing large doses of addictive Gauntlet-ing. I will say up front that there are many trade-offs and flaws. You can only have 2 players at once. There are a lot of little graphical glitches and design oversights. And it's not even very challenging, at least in terms of the chances of you being killed as you play. Yet it succeeds because it is generous and just vastly enjoyable. I can't remember the last time I had a game that I could fire up so casually and enjoy getting into with a minimum of fuss or stress at any time. Replayability is great and, weirdly, challenge actually increases if you rope in a friend to help you cut a swathe through the bad guys.


Skorne is a demon lord whose endless diabolical laughter in this game will irritate you to no end, and who has usurped the world with evil. Guess who must set everything right?

Your HQ is the tower of the good mage Sumner. Portals lead from the tower to Gauntlet's various worlds - the Warrior's Mountain, the Valkyrie's Castle, the Poison Fields, the Ice Domain and The Battlefield. At first only the mountain is accessible, but finding all the obelisks hidden in any world allows Sumner to grant you access to the next. There's a cool little scene in which he throws some magic at the portals. All the while, you have to scour the levels for 13 unlucky runestones which will ultimately open the portal to Skorne's underworld. PLUS, you have to kill 4 other major monstrosities at the end of worlds in order to collect shards of a cathedral window! Why?! To access Skorne's Cathedral!! PLUS en route it is desirable to find the five 'Legend' weapons which help enormously against the demon bosses!!!

Confused or intimidated yet? I know I was when I first started playing the game. You have numerous goals spread all over the place. But you'll find you get a handle on them all pretty fast, and that the effect is very exciting. And between levels you'll return to the tower where you can save the game or spend the gold you find on your adventures to buy health and numerous power-ups.

The Good Guys

Before you can dive amongst the enemy, you need to pick a player. You can and will personalise your hero RPG-style in GL, an enjoyable feature which the original Gauntlets never offered. Your initial choice of character determines your most important characteristics:

Warrior (male) is slow and sturdy but very mean in both hand-to-hand and axe-throwing.

Valkyrie (female) is swift and well-armoured, lobbing brisk but average-strength swords and packing juicy hand-to-hand prowess. She's also my favourite. In the old Gauntlet games she was considered either 'useless' or 'a challenge to play'. In this game she comes back kicking asses and taking names.

Wizard (male) has got the best magical attacks of all - QUELLE SURPRISE!!! - not to mention beefy shot power.

Archer (female) is delicate but ultrafast both on foot and with her bow.

You can then choose an appearance from amongst 4 different styles of clothing, colouring and race for each class, and finally name your character.

Running the gauntlet

The slaughter commences on the Warrior's Mountain. A valorous orchestral theme begins to play as you find your hero in a bright field of grass and stone with bridges and steep climbs ahead. The view is generally from 45 degrees overhead and a good distance away. Ogre Grunts are already loping towards you from haphazard-looking wooden generators and it's time to cut them down. There are 2 basic means of fighting enemies. The first is by shooting - hold down X and aim to start flinging your endless supply of axes, swords, magical bolts or arrows. The second is by hand-to-hand combat - simply steer into your foes and you'll start hacking at them. For the warrior and valkyrie this works well. The archer and wizard's melee attacks are far too slow and weak for this to ever be safe or effective.

The analogue control is excellent, and I'd say fairly essential. Without an analogue pad you'd be stuck aiming and moving in only the 8 compass directions. With the pad you can aim in probably 32+ directions and choose to walk, stroll or run.

The characters and monsters are articulate and very nicely animated, especially for their size. It takes awhile for your eyes to adjust to the scale of this game. So much must be onscreen at once that everyone and everything is small, numbers in your stat display can be hard to read at times and the odd feature will clip. But impressively you can still make out all the fine details of the combatants, such as the valkyrie and warrior hewing back and forth with their weapons, the wizard flinging his staff about and the archer stringing each and every arrow into her bow. Monster variety is very juicy - you've got ogres, trolls, dogs and wolves, spiders and leeches, orcish brigadiers, shambling mummies, zombie mutants, dark knights, golems, piranha-esque red demons and more... all highly distinguishable and unique.

The emphasis in Gauntlet has always been on the way the good guys are outnumbered by hordes of enemies. It's still that way in GL, though overall it's not as hectic as old school Gauntlet. Generators are typically in the form of wooden structures against walls or of nests and gravestones on floors. A full-strength generator will shunt out numerous tough monsters at high frequency. The more you knock a generator down, the weaker the monsters it produces, and you can cleverly see the effect onscreen. The wooden structure starts to collapse, and instead of huge green ogres emerging you see medium-sized ones, and finally pathetic skinny little green guys. Scuttling from a full-strength nest you might initially see big purple scorpions or fat disgusting rats which require multiple hits to kill. Hack the nest down and you'll have little red scorpions and mice whom you can actually kill just by treading on them!

Thus you have continuously fun strategic elements. You've always got monsters trickling or pouring onto the screen from multiple directions. You have to judge your threats, consider which monsters are meanest and then try and take out the relevant generators quicksmart. Things get trickier when you run into enemy archers or, worse still, enemies who lob bombs continuously in your direction and over great distance.

I am Death Incarnate

You've got numerous tricks up your sleeve with which to fight back... like the turbo meter. Hold down Square and you can burn your meter as fuel to dash and fight at an accelerated pace. There are numerous uses for this: To beat a horde of monsters to a vantage point, to scoot through a minefield of enemies who are shooting or bombing you, or to cunningly nab that chest before your friend does! Next up, hit X and the turbo button together to unleash a turbo attack. These are character-specific moves which are terrific if you're surrounded. At full strength, all characters have a 'wall of magic' type move that torches everything infront of them. The next-best attack involves a 360 weapon spin by the warrior or valkyrie, a slaughterous arrow storm by the archer and a rock shower spell by the wizard. Your turbo meter replenishes constantly and steadily over time, which makes your life easier. Possibly too much easier, but then again the game is generous to novices.

Collect keys, unlock the chests you find and you'll start to get power-ups as well. There are 18+ different collectable items, amongst them boots to increase your speed, a 3-way shot, an ultrafast attack icon, 4 different kinds of special shot (acid, fire, electricity, ice), dragonbreathing attacks in the same 4 flavours, a golden falcon familiar who spits fireballs, Thor's hammer (mashes everyone on the screen), invisibility, magic potions... the list goes on. The potions no longer blitz the whole playfield as they did in old Gauntlet. They produce a brief deadly explosion that arcs outwards from your player. You can also lob them over walls for a grenade effect, which is neat, or quaff them to produce an offensive magical shield.

You can toggle individual power-ups on or off as you wish, though the system to cycle through your stats and inventory with the shoulder buttons is pretty painful and you won't want to mess with it in the heat of battle. But what is insanely fun and one of the most innovative features of GL is the way you can activate as many power-ups as you like simultaneously to create crazy attacks. You could be invisible and firing 3-way ice bullets at ultrafast speed with a falcon tossing fireballs over your shoulder all at once. Cackle madly as you single-handedly mow down an advancing army with your customised onslaught. And the graphics for all of the magical effects are truly sparkling. I never cease to be amazed at what fantastic new tricks creative people can keep getting out of the Playstation warhorse half a decade after its creation!

''Oefening baart kunst en conflicten baren legendes!''
(out of conflict, legends are born!)

Hacking down monsters gets you experience which in effect is your score. When you gather enough experience you will grow a level as is the RPG way, with a maximum achievable level of 99. Levelling immediately increases your hp as well as all of your attributes: Speed, Magic, Armor, Fight Power and Shot Power, which are all measured on a scale from 1-1000. It's a simple, addictive and completely hassle free system with satisfyingly apparent effects. You will be very aware of the increasing damage dealt out by both yourself and tougher monsters. Revisit an earlier world and you'll be amazed how you can now run rings around the dozey Ogres with your jacked-up speed and slay them with one shot. Most fun of all, you will eventually acquire a familiar who constantly hovers over your shoulder and fires alongside you. The familiars include dragonflies, winged serpents, falcons and butterflies, and even your familiar will develop and change colours as your power scales to new heights.

I never anticipated that the player development would be so addictive in this game. You'll develop favourite characters, revisiting worlds to level them up, admiring their new powers, assaulting the very high levels repeatedly to take the last few long steps to reach level 99. You'll try all of the classes and probably wish to reach 99 in all of them. And once a character has finished the main quest, 4 bonus worlds are unlocked for them to play with. Two of these are annoyingly easy, but the other two are a worthy challenge for your juggernaut characters. All in all, the RPG features are woven effortlessly into the action so that you can enjoy them without having to ponder them at all. This is after all an arcade game first and foremost.

La Monde Gauntlet

The view of the action is typically from 45 degrees overhead as I've mentioned, but it will twist and fly around, sometimes moving further in or out or going completely overhead. In a few places it rustily does a 180 degree snap (BUG!). You have no maps or compass so your exploration skills get quite a workout. To progress you must search the levels thoroughly, hitting switches to remove barriers (they're marked with arrows indicating the direction of the change), raise and lower platforms and alter the environment in other helpful ways. Obelisks hide around corners to make sure you're keeping your eyes open, and runestones are usually locked away from you in a 'teasing' fashion.

If you locate the hidden door in each world, you'll enter a secret level. These are the equivalent of the old treasure rooms. Dash through mazes to collect all the coins in time to unlock secret characters. I like the idea of being a Minotaur or a Jackal etc. for a little while. But when I wanted to turn back to normal, I found I couldn't! That was one really annoying oversight.

The regular levels are deeply engaging, with scenery often used to dazzling effect. Atmospherically, you'll always feel like you're THERE. It starts out with steep mountain slopes and jagged forked paths. The interior of the Valkyrie's Castle reminds me strongly of classic Gauntlet with its exotically tiled floors, masonry and squarish design. The Poison Fields look successfully gloomy but their vast stretches of open space can be horrible to navigate. The Ice Domain on the other hand is definitely my pick for the most beautiful world, with magnificent fields of snow and endlessly crisscrossing transparent glacial paths... Amazing! Environmental effects such as lakes, magma, torches, waterfalls and geysers are all just as vivid.

So graphically and atmospherically, the environments of GL are its strongest suit. And this is a really good thing, because the fact is it's the exploration that is the main challenge in this game. Hacking through your foes is the focus of fun and angst, but the average gamer will almost never get killed unless they play VERY sloppily. Indeed, I've only ever been killed by a boss. The bosses fill screens and look spectacular, but even they're easy. You might think the lack of danger would be a disaster challenge-wise. Yet in GL, I've never been bored. The rich atmosphere, the relentless combat, mixing my power-ups, levelling my character, pursuing the quest... it's a triumph of accessible X-factor entertainment over all else.

The Return of Berlioz

Sonically it's a double-edged sword. Let me get the bad news out of the way first - most of the sound effects are very indistinct. There's a melange of roaring, hacking, roaring, screaming and then some more roaring in combat. You'll know you're in combat all right, but it always becomes a muddy din. Voice effects are appalling. I cannot understand why they chose to filter all of the voices as if trapped in a warp tunnel or an echo chamber. Only He-Man can get away with this when he yells out, 'I HAVE THE POWER!' but when the Gauntlet characters try, it's like they're gurgling in the distance. Their muddy voices are buried in the mix and what you can hear is unimpressive anyway. 'Mmmmm, I'm hungry,' mumbles the wizard (I think). You can hear the archer or valkyrie smack their chops after they eat too, which isn't very inspiring.

Something I also miss from the old Gauntlets is the boomy-voiced heroic guy who would yell out stuff like,

'Red warrior shot the food!'

'I've never seen such bravery!' (hollered when you suicidally ploughed into a wall of monsters)

'Welcome Valkyrie!'

We could really have used his wisdom anew. It was always hilarious and cranked up the fun on multiplayer A Whole Lot.

Fortunately, all is saved by the music. Though it starts out with rousing but unspectacular orchestral pieces, it gets infinitely more exciting and original as you play. Classic themes from the old Gauntlet games such as the Treasure Room music get a look-in on the secret levels. Bach-inspired organ pieces are used to create a gothic atmosphere in town, and the Ice Domain themes are very bleak, chilly and stressful.

For me, perfection is achieved with The Battlefield levels. That very famous piece of doomy music by Berlioz is the star here. You know, the one played over the credits of 'The Shining'? The one Patrick Bergin likes to punish Julia Roberts with in 'Sleeping with the Enemy'?? Yeah, that one! Well, here it's given an ultra-hardsynth techno makeover and I have got to say, this is the best techno makeover of a classical piece I've EVER heard. Frankly, I think most such attempts go completely awry, but this is a pounding raging success. It makes you want to scream and go flying into a storm of enemies in a spray of blood. The blistering wall of sound is a treat for those of us who like really hard music. Others may reach for the volume control. Actually, I reach for it too, but I crank it up. Combine the sheets of driving Berlioz with the blood-red battlefield scenery and waves of heedless skeleton warriors trying to mow you down, and you have my favourite GL experience on these levels.

Two at once!

When we insert our virtual coins and add a 2nd player, what happens?

Firstly, it's an onslaught of fun. You can never hurt each other (unlike moments in the original Gauntlets), which I figure is another nod towards novice gamers. There's the odd bit of slowdown or framedropping, but it's absolutely negligible. The screen may go even wider than usual to accommodate both of you roaming about. If you try to wander too far from your mate you simply won't be able to go any further. One very annoying related bug - if you're straining at the edge of the screen, it doesn't let you do hand-to-hand on monsters who are running into you.

There are considerably more monsters attacking and generators are even more fertile than usual. Inversely, chests and goodies seem to be distributed exactly as per a 1-player game. In this way, 2-player action is actually more challenging, and you will have to squabble over or share pick-ups... 'Gimme the gold! GIMME!!!' And it takes a surprising amount of yelling and verbal cooperation to coordinate your exploration and attacking. The social factor is high, shock horror!! GL is the kind of game you could fire up at a party, and where any 2 players irrespective of videogame savvy could team up, catch on really fast and have a blast. Now that is not something you can say very often at all about games of this genre.

The Gauntlet Legend


-- ULTRA playable + generous. Pick it up and have fun anytime
-- Huge variety across 30+ gorgeous and atmospheric levels
-- Relentless 'you vs hordes' combat is classic Gauntlet
-- Super duper analogue control
-- Cool hassle-free character development and RPG elements
-- Pick'n'Mix power-ups for spectacular attacks
-- VERY Cool music - Gauntlet remixes, Bach and Berlioz!
-- Completely reverent to the original Gauntlet games
-- Fun 2 player action is absolutely pro-social! Great party material


-- Low challenge - you'll almost never get killed
-- Cumbersome stat and inventory display controls
-- Backtracking in some levels can be tedious
-- Muffled sound effects and character voices
-- A few annoying bugs, oversights and graphical glitches

Gauntlet Legends. You won't die much here, if at all. Yet you will fight relentlessly, always feel your explorations and character growth are rewarding and purposeful, and enjoy hacking your way through some marvellous worlds. It just feels great, it's fine for 1 or 2 players, and you can pick it up at any time without stressing about where you were last time you played. The fun factor is through the roof, it's accessible, it's generous, it's replayable. Some games forget to give you a break in their quest to be grueling, and the sparkly fun of Gauntlet Legends is the antidote.

-- Gauntlet Legends -- 8/10 --

bloomer's avatar
Community review by bloomer (March 08, 2004)

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