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Gauntlet: Dark Legacy
on 5 October 2003
I have fond memories of Gauntlet. Wasting hours, even whole days of the family holiday in France in front the original arcade version of the game with my brother while my parents enjoyed the sun (and our absence) by the pool. Then the version of it (Gauntlet II) that came bundled with the Atari ST my dad bought us in the early '90s. For those too young to have played on this particular classic, Gauntlet was a top-down view shoot-em-up in which you assumed the role of a barbarian, wizard, elf or valkyrie and set off through endless randomly generated dungeons fighting off similarly endless streams of evil monster types. Gameplay was simplistic, you and any friends who opted to join you (the four player mode was a special treat) appeared in dungeon one and had to battle your way through a maze to the exit and dungeon two. There were supposed to be a hundred levels to complete in Gauntlet 2, my brother and I battled bravely non-stop for a day and got to level 192 before we gave up. We felt cheated, no fireworks, no congratulations, no big finale, just more of the same for as long as we could manage to stay awake.
Gauntlet: Dark Legacy, produces much the same feeling in me. The gameplay remains essentially unchanged from the old Gauntlet. The mazes are prettier, and of course, rendered in full 3D, but the aim is still just to battle your way to the exit and into the next maze. Things are complicated by the need to find certain items in each level to unlock later stages, and by the inclusion of an RPG style experience system so you can customise your character and make them stronger. Complications don't necessarily make a better game however. The addition of a predictably hackneyed plot doesn't help things either. It strikes me that the developers couldn't really decide whether they wanted a faithful but prettier rendition of the old Gauntlet, or an entirely new action-RPG game that simply made use of the Gauntlet good name to shift units. Either option would have been better than this, which feels both needlessly complicated and overly simplistic at the same time.
To be honest the game didn't really need updating, but if it had to be done then it could have done much better than this. There seems to be a strange fear amongst video game developers today that, because consoles have become so much more powerful, games must always be more complicated. They fail to notice some of the most enjoyable games are also the most simplistic, the Worms series for example, or the Dance Mat craze. Deep and complicated games with intricate plots can be great but so can really simple games that don't require you to think at all. Gauntlet was always one of those games. At heart it was a social experience, and it's this that the developers of Dark Legacy have failed to pick up on, thinking instead that tacking on some half-hearted RPG elements would make the game an interesting single-player jaunt. They've missed the really fun multiplayer elements of the Gauntlet series out entirely, like the 'IT' monster that causes all the other monsters to be magnetically drawn to you when it touches you until you can tag one of your erstwhile comrades and pass the troublesome curse on to him. The comedy booming voice that announced such things is also absent. Announcements that "RED WARRIOR IS IT!" or "BLUE WIZARD IS ABOUT TO DIE!" (followed by suitably tense music reminiscent of a crucial Countdown conundrum) are sadly never heard.
Dark Legacy tries to make Gauntlet grow up for the next-gen consoles, but in doing so it loses all sense of fun, and thus all of the appeal of the original