The Gauntlet franchise’s legendarily goofy lines of dialogue pretty much eclipse the actual games from which they originate. As much as “warrior needs food badly” is funny, it’s important to remember what a pioneering effort the original 1985 dungeon-crawler was. Thankfully Gauntlet: Slayer Edition should help as a memory aid as it brings the famed series’ hack-and-slash action to the PlayStation 4. As you might expect, it’s a rousing blend of light puzzle solving and button-mashing combat that’s perfect for gathering up your friends — whether around the TV or online.
The campaign is the meat of Gauntlet’s offerings, a trip through three worlds to collect their corresponding magical MacGuffins. The narrative, if you can even call it that, is humorously downplayed. The wizard Morak instructs you to retrieve shards for him, you comply without hesitation, and along the way there a bunch of goofy wisecracks and references to the original game. Speaking of that: if you know anything about the role Morak played in the 1985 version, you’re not going to be very surprised what ends up happening with that whole shard thing.
Movers and Shakers, Hackers and Slashers
Of course, story isn’t the focus here. This is pure hack-and-slash bliss, a button-mashers’ paradise. You pick from four characters, each returning from the original: Thor the Warrior, a wide-swinging hero with high endurance; Thyra the Valkyrie, a quick melee attacker whose shield offers great defense; Merlin the Wizard, who has pitiful health but nine powerful spells to unleash; and Questor the Elf, a fast and flexible archer whose bows and dodge rolls cover a large area of ground. There’s also a DLC character this time around, Lilith the Necromancer, who summons undead skeletons to do your bidding.
All the characters are a blast to use, and they play differently enough to justify experimentation. Some are easier than others; for example, Thor’s high HP and attack power make him an ideal character to start with, while Merlin’s tricky spells and inability to take hits are better suited to veteran players. Each character also has their own reasons for entering the Gauntlet, complete with a set of goofy lines (“And the crowd goes wild!” says Thor after racking up a significant number of kills). Again, though, the story is pretty much there as window dressing. Enjoy whatever silliness your character has to offer and focus on how they play.
Cooperative Challenges Galore
No matter who you choose, you’ll face the same three types of challenges: longer levels that mix combat and light puzzle-solving, small arenas that test your combat ability, and “Death” levels where the Grim Reaper himself follows you around (killing you instantly if you so much as touch him). All three of these are great fun, especially if you have a group of friends to bring along for the ride in local or online co-op. As you might expect, the utter madness of four characters fighting immense hoards of enemies while running from Death can be quite exhilarating.
For convenience’s sake, you can also “Quick Join” a campaign someone else has already started. This can be a bit of a mixed bag; some parties will offer a good time and a high yield of gold to buy better equipment later, while others will spawn you right in harm’s way — an unfortunate event that got this reviewer killed in the first few seconds more than once. What is most surprising, though, is the game also plays very well solo. It’s certainly not as fun as having other players there to help, but it provides a decent challenge and is a perfectly good option for the single-player lovers out there.
As far as other modes go, there’s an Endless mode that offers pretty much what you’d expect: a nightmarishly difficult run through a neverending, and increasingly brutal, series of floors. This one’s quite nice in that each floor is much shorter than the levels you’ll experience during the campaign, keeping you on your toes a bit more. The Coliseum brings ever-changing daily challenges to bear that offer special rewards for completion.
Dungeon-Crawling Ad Nauseum
If there’s one major complaint with all the modes, it’s the repetition involved in the gameplay. With only very basic puzzles to break up the button-mashing and stick-twitching, things can become a bit of a repetitive slog. That’s not to say the game is boring per se, but the levels don’t really stand out from each other in any significant way; you’ll be fighting different enemies and solving different puzzles, but they’re minor variations that aren’t very memorable or significant. Because of this, it’s best to tackle the game only a few levels at a time, and with other players if possible. Both of these do a great deal to keep things from getting too stale.
Visually, Gauntlet is certainly not the prettiest game you’ll ever lay eyes on. The action is zoomed way out to give you a good view of the field, but this comes at the cost of detail one might get with a closer perspective. Truth be told, the overall aesthetic doesn’t do this problem any favors — this is a generic-looking fantasy that deals in washed-out colors and square-ish designs.
Sadly, the music falls victim to the same problems, offering exactly the sort of textbook-epic orchestral background to your dungeon-crawling. It’s worth emphasizing that no aspect of the presentation really offends the senses in any way; it just feels uninspired given the storied history of the franchise. This revival could have benefited from a presentation that really stood out from the crowd, and it just doesn’t deliver.
Overall, though, Gauntlet: Slayer Edition is still well-worth a play, especially for fans of hack-and-slash action. It’s a streamlined dungeon-crawler with easy-to-learn combat and a great selection of time-tested characters. Things may start to feel repetitive after a while, but playing with your friends and taking breaks every couple of levels can help things feel fresh again. The aesthetic leaves a lot to be desired, too, but that’s probably the last thing that will be on your mind when you’re having fun tackling monster after monster with three other players online or on your couch.
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