A warrior. A wizard. A valkyrie. An elf. Many children of the 80s have spent hours long hours as one or all of these characters in the "Gauntlet" arcade and video games.
Now Sweden-based Arrowhead Game Studios is rebooting the classic franchise with a new multiplayer hack-and-slash for the Steam gaming platform, scheduled to release later this year for an as-yet-unspecified price. In an effort to recreate the living room co-op gaming experience, "Gauntlet" will also be compatible with SteamOS and the upcoming Steambox gaming consoles.
We played a demo of the game, titled simply "Gauntlet," at an event during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Playing as the valkyrie, we teamed up with three other players to fight our way through hoardes of undead skeletons in a fantasy-medieval dungeon.
The game is played from a top-down, third-person perspective. The levels are partially procedurally generated, meaning certain aspects are randomized to create new experiences each time you play.
Each character, has a jump button, a fast and light attack, a slow and heavy attack, and a special attack. The valkyrie's was a ranged attack in which she throws her shield like a boomerang. This attack needed time to recharge before it could be used again. The valkyrie could also use her shield to defend against and even reflect attacks, and was slightly faster than the warrior and wizard.
Swarms of monsters were the level's most distinguishing feature, but players can also collect chests of gold, which can later be used to purchase various power-up items. Some of these can be found in the levels themselves: In the demo we played, the wizard located an item that made him move faster, and our valkyrie acquired an ice-based special attack (activated by one of the triggers on the controller) that could freeze multiple enemies.
The levels are also dotted with "food" that restores the player's health bar. If the enemies get in too many hits and a player's health bar drops to zero, they'll either have to pay gold to respawn, or wait a few moments to respawn automatically.
At one point in the demo, we greedily raced toward a huge pile of food, not realizing that the warrior was much more badly damaged than us. The other players then agreed that the warrior would get the next food the group found, even if someone else could get there faster.
True to its co-op heart, players can't hurt each other, but players can knock their teammates around, which can come in handy if you're both racing for the same healing food or chest of gold.
The "Gauntlet" series began in 1985 as an arcade game by Atari with a simple premise: fight enemies and clear levels. More recent games have added other features, such as turbo attacks or the ability to level up your characters.
This "Gauntlet" reboot strips away a lot of newer features in order to return to the "pure" hack-and-slash experience. The leveling system is gone, which makes it easier for new players to jump in and play alongside veterans.
It is, however, the first "Gauntlet" game to enable online play, though even then the levels are limited to four players at a time.
Arrowhead Game Studios previously developed "Magicka," a co-op action adventure fantasy game for Steam known for its self-referential sense of humor. It is now working with publisher Warner Brothers Interactive to develop "Gauntlet."
With its simple, streamlined controls and the compatibility with SteamOS, "Gauntlet" is clearly nostalgic for the living room-centric gaming of the early 90s. And it succeeds — the game may not be doing anything radical or particularly surprising, but from the demo it appears to deliver on everything it promises: namely, more "Gauntlet."