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Gauntlet II (NES) artwork

Gauntlet II (NES) review

"I dissect a game from my early childhood, does it hold up? only one way to find out."

When I was 4 I wanted a playstation, I got a hand me down NES from my uncle. Since this was the late 90’s and this was Europe it meant that at the time the NES was properly dead, E-Commerce hadn’t really been born yet and I was stuck with the selection of games that were handed down to me, one of those games was gauntlet 2, I mention this because I worry that I’m going to descend into nostalgic fanboyism, probably an NES game reviewer’s greatest enemy.

The gauntlet games are a series of hack and slash dungeon crawling games created by Atari, the early games were noted for their 4 player co-operative(or not) gameplay and unique(and money draining) health systems, really apart from that they aren’t revolutionary but they were fun multiplayer games that are well remembered today, the question is; does the NES port hold up today?...I think so, let’s see why.

In gauntlet 2 you have a choice of 4 characters:

The warrior: great physical stats but slow and almost nonexistent magic.
The Valkyrie: good physical, decent speed, okay magic. Good all rounder really.
The Elf: kind of like an antithesis of the warrior, almost no physical stats, pretty decent magic, moves faster than the screen…literally if you find a long straight stretch and just move him along he will press up against the screen.
The wizard: decent speed, best magic, low physical stats.

As this is a four player game it is possible to have each player as a different character but also to have each player as the same character (something that wasn’t allowed in the first gauntlet) and overall I find it tends to make a well balanced game…if you are playing co-operatively, more on that later.

Choose your destiny and you are thrown into the main game, to be honest the gameplay is pretty simple, kill the enemies you encounter, get to the chop-exit. There is a pretty good selection of enemies however, from the ghouls that hit you once and disappear, dealing some damage to you to really, death in this game is a character that always moves straight towards you (I mean directly towards you, making him often quite easy to trap) and when he touches you he takes massive amounts of health away from you and disappears after about 9 hits, apart from magic there is no other way to kill him. There are also dragons who when killed drop permanent upgrades like an unlimited inventory, however they are unfairly powerful, their projectiles will take away so much health that you can easily be killed in a few seconds, if there was a strafe option I would probably not care as much, most weaker enemies like the ghost, orc and brute tend to be spawned from enemy factories which can be destroyed.

Health in this game is handle quite uniquely…in terms of games that came from the arcade, you have one life and your health is shown by a timer on screen, you begin with 2000 health points and this decreases steadily until either you are hit or you pick up a health upgrade which adds 1000 hit points, in the arcade more coins=more health. Magic is determined by use of potions, the particular character you choose will effect how much of the screen is cleared, the warrior often takes out only a few enemies and freezes the rest for a few seconds, depending on how full the screen is, while the wizard can easily clear the screen. One slight problem with potions however is that they share the inventory with keys, you can only hold about 8 items in your stock inventory and I often find myself wasting potions to accommodate a key I know I’m about to need.

Another thing to mention is powerups and powerDOWNS, often you can find items that will give you some powers that may last only for a few minutes or until the level is completed, the most common is the reflective shot powerup which causes your projectile weapons to bounce off walls, once that pretty much breaks the game is the transportability powerup, you walk into a wall or powerup or most enemies and you will pass through and end up on the other side on the other side of it, additionally if there is something on the other side of that wall like another wall or an enemy it disappears or if it is an item it is picked up. The fact that you phase through items is a real pain in the hole. it is also easy to find power downs in this game, usually it’s health traps like poisoned food or bad potions which will take a nice chunk off your health and are best shot instead. Another is an item that doubles your health usage, instead of one health point lost per second now there are 2 lost.

Now onto the levels, up til level 6 you will always play the same introductory levels, each containing some distinctive gameplay mechanic like usage of keys, fake exits and moving exits, if you are tired of those levels there is a straight skip to level 6 present on level 1. after that it is fairly random what comes up, some levels are actually pretty fun to go through, though some are annoying mazes that frustrate me still and caused my 4 year old self’s brain to melt. To spice things up often there are special rules that may show up, for example switching whether or not you can attack other players (and whether or not that is advantageous) or promising a secret room level if you are able to determine the REAL exit in the level from all the fakes, one that I honestly don’t see the point behind is the one where all walls are invisible, it just leaves you wandering around with no idea how to get to the exit (though in some of these levels there is a transporter powerup somewhere but that negates the challenge).

There are a lot of other gameplay mechanics here that I could go into but I feel like I’m rambling enough already, long story short: the mechanics of this game are remarkably complex and the game does try a lot to keep things somewhat fresh.

Graphics are pretty bland, I always found the sprites to be indistinct (even playing on a 55 inch TV I can barely make out what many sprites are meant to be) but playing the game allows you to at least determine collectible from foe, the backgrounds tend to just be a brick pattern. Overall not good impressions, especially considering that the title screen graphics are pretty amazing…at least in terms of detail, the colours used are fairly drab.

Sound is almost nonexistent, there is no music past the opening title music (a small sample of which is used to announce levels) and a small ditty when you die that sounds like armpit fart noises. There IS an actual voice announcer in the game that is pretty well sampled and it is usually easy to understand. Apart from that you probably aren’t going to hear much apart from the minute sound effects from firing your weapon and picking up an item. In fact some of the sound effects are downright grating, there is a sound effect used when you walk through a kind of force field like thing that switches on and off, it makes my ears bleed and if I had to describe it, I would call it the "Satan's Belch" sound effect.

Overall gauntlet 2 is a good game, the graphics and sound often border on terrible and the lack of music is nigh unforgivable and some levels are quite close to unbeatable (there are a few that I literally have no idea how to beat) but the gameplay is pretty solid, the variations in the levels are usually a welcome break and for a 4 player game it can be really competitive when you are on a level where being a dick to your friends can actually help you. Considering everything I’m giving it a 7 which I think is fair personally but I think on some people’s lists it would get a 6.


maboroshi's avatar
Community review by maboroshi (May 07, 2013)

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