Gauntlet Legends’ arcade origins may give you the impression that it’s just another simplistic hack ‘n’ slash game, but there’s more to this adventure than you might think.
Ported from the arcade to the N64 in 1999, Gauntlet Legends was an ideal fit for Nintendo’s multiplayer-centric system. A four-player co-op adventure that features straightforward gameplay, simplistic controls and respectable 3D visuals was likely to go down well with the same audience that was renowned for sinking hours into GoldenEye 007 and Mario Kart 64’s multiplayer modes.
But back in the day there would’ve been good reason to be skeptical about Gauntlet Legends’ quality. Midway Games was already well and truly in the habit of porting across arcade games to the N64, having released Cruis’n USA and Rampage World Tour in 1996 and 1998 respectively.
Cruis’n USA proved to be a considerably downgraded experience compared to the original version, while Rampage World Tour (which is good mindless fun to be fair) is clearly a lazy port with free play turned on, thus removing any semblance of challenge. This isn’t the case when it comes to Gauntlet Legends. You could play this game having never known of its arcade origins beforehand and still be none the wiser.
Enter the Gauntlet
For the uninitiated, Gauntlet Legends is a hack ‘n’ slash game where you and up to three other players team up to battle the evil forces of the demon lord, Skorne. You must fight your way through over 20 levels stuffed full of large groups of enemies, searching for hidden obelisks and runestones that will unlock the path to the big boss himself.
Each map features a wealth of secrets, as well as collectables in the form of food (health), gold and time-limited power-ups. Enemies spawn from “generators”: doorways on the map that will relentlessly pump out vile creatures until you destroy them. Even with four players the game can throw a staggering number of enemies at you.
An all-star cast
Your skill on the battlefield will vary depending on which of the game’s four characters you use.
The Warrior and Valkyrie are designed to be played up close and personal, taking the brunt of the onslaught while dishing out the pain; the Wizard and Archer, on the other hand, strike from afar, with the latter also being especially adept at magic-based attacks.
Regardless of who you choose, your character earns XP as they fight, which levels them up and makes them stronger. You can’t pick up new weapons or armour as loot, but you can pay gold to boost your stats.
Fight for your life
Combat, on the surface at least, is very straightforward. You can attack at close quarters or at range just by pressing A, whereas other simple button combinations enable you to perform more powerful moves.
But mindlessly mashing A isn’t the most effective way to play, and you probably won’t get far if you don’t react to what’s going on around you. Opening a chest or walking near an object can cause Death (the Grim Reaper) to appear who will continuously sap your life until you use a magic-based attack to fend him off. To use magic you need to have a potion, so stockpiling these quickly becomes a priority.
Each character also has the ability to perform a turbo attack: a super-powerful strike that typically unleashes a large wave of energy across the map. This attack is a great way to clear the path of enemies, but it has a lengthy cooldown period in between uses.
The further you get into the game, the more it throws at your party in terms of enemies, and it’s all too easy to become overwhelmed. Timing your turbo attacks – especially if you’re running through the game solo – is often the difference between life and death.
And staying alive is important, because despite Gauntlet Legends’ arcade origins, this game doesn’t feature a credit system. If you die during a battle, you’re out of the game until everyone else has died too (that or you restart the game).
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail
It’s important to be fully equipped before entering each level. In the game’s hub world, you can purchase health and power-ups from friendly wizard, Sumner, and even boost your character’s stats. This costs gold, so you have to spend wisely.
Power-ups can also be found in levels, and instead of using them then and there you can keep and then sell them to Sumner – a great way to top up your health. As you progress through Gauntlet Legends, you quickly realise that it’s more than a mindless button-basher; a lot of the time it’s about making strategic decisions that will boost your chances in battle.
Inevitably, the character progression and power-up systems encourage you to replay earlier levels in a bid to top up on XP and supplies. There’s no doubt that the development team intended players to do this; depending on your character’s experience level, the earlier levels will in fact be more challenging than they were the first time round. It’s a good system because it ensures the combat remains somewhat challenging while also reducing the feeling that you’re just grinding.
More than meets the eye
There’s good chance you’ll need to go through at least some of the levels again to find all the runestones, obelisks and other items that will aid you in your quest. It’s remarkable just how well hidden some of these items are, and often they’ll require you to scour every single nook and cranny of the level.
Thankfully, you do come across scrolls that give clues as to where the hidden secrets lie, although it’s worth noting that these are often hidden in locked chests for which you need to have found a key. You have to really pay close attention to each of the level’s environments, to the point where noticing a subtle difference in a wall’s texture or the camera angle is the key to finding what you need.
The rewards are worth your time and effort though. This is primarily because you need them to fully complete the game, but also because certain collectables have a huge impact on the boss battles and, therefore, increase your chances of success quite dramatically.
Getting straight to the action (tl;dr)
Gauntlet Legends is an accessible game that both veteran and novice gamers can enjoy. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that this game is a mindless trudge in which you just spam the attack button. When it comes to the combat, you’ll need to make tactical decisions about when you use special attacks and power-ups, and ensure you’re fully prepared before going into battle. Playing with friends provides more opportunities for tactical play, so get some mates round, form a party and go hunt some demons!