Gauntlet is a fantasy dungeon crawler and shooter developed by Atari and published by Tengen for the NES in 1987 with a PlayChoice-10 version released in 1988. Unlike the original arcade game which plays forever, the NES port has a rudimentary story and ending. This game is part of the Gauntlet universe.
When I first played the game, I fixated on the barbarian because he was the strongest. After playing him for awhile, I became annoyed with his slowness and inability to shoot through cracks in the walls. As I became more interested in the occult, my favorite shifted to the wizard because he had the strongest magic. But, after becoming annoyed by how weak he is, I liked the Valkyrie the most because I viewed her as the most versatile with the best armor, and adequate speed, attack, and magic. My current favorite is the elf because he is the fastest, which allows you to avoid enemies, gather more treasure, and finished levels the fastest, ultimately keeping your HP high.
My brother and I got this game used around 1990 and played it through nearly to the end, however, we missed most of the secret rooms, so we could never get into the final stage. I really loved the game when I was younger, but now I see a huge amount of flaws in it. Nothing insurmountable, but it would take a fair amount of work to make this game less tedious. After watching a speed runner blow through the game in under 20 minutes, I decided to try and beat the game. Rather than go through the hassle of trying to find every single secret, I used a walk-through to learn about the entrances to the secret rooms, but finished the rest of the game on my own.
As a child, I stumbled upon a useful bug in this game. If you get stunned, the countdown continues to count even if you press select to see your stats, and, by the time you get back to the game, the countdown is over, and the enemies never get a chance to hurt you.
I own this game. I beat it on 2019-09-22 with help from a walk through to find the entrances to the secret rooms.
Best Version: NES
— This section contains spoilers! —
- The game competently takes most of what was good with the arcade original while adding elements to better suit the home console like permanent upgrades, health leveling, and an actual victory condition.
- The graphics are pretty decent for the NES. The large character images at the beginning of the game look great, as do the unique cards for each world.
- The game has fantastic music composed by Hal Canon.
- Being able to choose a character from a group of different choices is always nice in any game, and their differences are significant here.
- The various permanent power up potions are a great idea.
- Giving each world its own look and feel was a nice design choice.
- Basing a player's level on the amount of treasure they've collected is an interesting touch that actually makes it worthwhile to grab the loot, unlike many games of the era where score is unimportant.
- Having health restoration being based on a successful exit of the treasure room is a good idea as well. Players need to balance their greed with their desire to survive, just like in the common trope.
- Most of the maps have hidden tiles that can be uncovered when shot for a minor bonus or secret exit. This adds replay value to the game as these pleasant surprises keep getting uncovered in subsequent play-throughs.
- The password is short enough to be manageable, and it's automatically entered for you when you continue after dying.
- The game has wonderful cover art.
- The game is longer than it needs to be, and you'll probably be pretty bored by the end. Many of the levels feel the same, in fact, many of them are the same, at least the wall layout. There are new monsters and a different tileset, but the map is the same.
- Death is an obnoxious enemy. The elf can outrun him, avoiding trap panels and doors can sometimes keep him imprisoned, and you can sometimes exploit his chase algorithm, but the slower classes often have no alternative but to watch their life drain away.
- The invisible walls in world 4 are overused to the point of being annoying.
- Reflective shot is actually a burden in this game since you're only allowed one shot out at a time.
- The locked chests are a good idea, but putting so many bad items in them like poison and death is just a kick in the teeth. Keys are such a rarity that experimenting with them is very costly.
- The item alcove with no entrance in room 56 is a mean tease.
- Excluding treasure rooms and secret rooms, the game randomly assigns the music. The designers missed the opportunity to add more atmosphere to specific levels because of this.
- The end boss is, like the bulk of the game, very tedious to defeat.
- The fact that you can only have one projectile out at a time is a nuisance early in the game, but it becomes very deadly later in the game when speedy grunts can take down hundreds of hit points in the time it takes for your projectile to leave the screen. It forces you to have to very-slowly work your way through the screens and plan your shots carefully, which is very tedious. A shot speed up bonus would help, but allowing multiple shots would solve the problem entirely.
- The later levels are staggeringly difficult. Even skilled players often die several times in world 5 where even a simple mistake can result in the loss of hundreds of hit points. There are just too many enemies, moving too quickly, and spawning too frequently. You can always use the password to restart the room at full life, which is usually enough to let you finish the room, but you'll usually die in the next one. This makes world 5 very exhausting.
- The game really shouldn't let you progress if you missed a secret room since the password is necessary in order to beat the game. You can spend hours getting all the way to the end, but, if you missed the first secret room, you can't win. Mordak warns you, but it can easily be misinterpreted as a typical villainous taunt.
- Finding the entrances to each of the secret rooms is a very arduous chore. The maps from the manual give you a general idea which rooms will get you to them, but most of them require you to do a lot of research testing out where each exit goes, and finding hidden exits. If you fail to reach a secret room, you need to enter a password from a previous level (which means also keeping a password log for pretty much -every- room, and having to reenter them over and over again.
- The secret rooms themselves are a pain as well. You have only a limited amount of time to find a hidden question mark block and escape through the, often hidden, exit. On several maps, this requires finding a shootable block which is very had to do when you have so little time. Some rooms even require you to bring extra keys to succeed. If you fail to exit with the question mark block within the set time, you need to reset from an earlier room. If you don't have enough keys, you need to reset much further back to when you have extras, then replay the levels without wasting keys.
- Near the end of the game, a lot of the exits that keep you on the path to victory are obnoxiously hidden requiring you to search the very dangerous rooms carefully to find them. This is not very fun.
- The teleporters rarely send you where you want to go, so you end up wasting a lot of time, and thereby your life, hoping they'll send you where you want to go. This is extremely frustrating, and they either should have been fixed or replaced.
- The world 4 treasure room, with its teleporters, stun tiles, and fake exits, makes it impossible to test each exit before the time runs out. Even a speed-boosted elf will only have about a 1-in-5 chance of making it out successfully, and, with two players, the likelihood drops much further.
- The game sometimes generates passwords that don't work, and I'm sure it's not a copy error, because they're pre-entered for you if you die and still don't work.
I love this game's box art. Each of the four characters is prominently featured and competently painted, and there is a sense of dangerous adventure seen in their poses. The unlicensed box art is essentially the same, only with the left and bottom edges covered over in flat gold. The painting looks a bit unfinished, but it still looks great.
Nintendo Power, 1988-06 - part 1.