Gauntlet Reflex Review: Put Me In, No Wait, You Go

They are making a new Gauntlet! Hell yeah, I love the old Gauntlet. Wait, which Gauntlet did I like? What exactly do I like about Gauntlet? Ah who cares? Arrowhead Games are making it, I’m sure they’ll figure it out. Can a Gauntlet game be good in 2014? What the hell is a Gauntlet game in 2014? I guess I’m buying it, here goes nothin.

Gauntlet Needs Something

There’s probably no real good reason that my anticipation for Arrowhead’s Gauntlet game was such a roller coaster. Sometimes you just fall in love with the idea of a game. I just really wanted a new Gauntlet without knowing what type of game I that was. My dungeon crawling tends to pretty much only involve Skyrims or Diablos these days, and let’s just say the Gauntlet formula is a bit more pure than that. Gauntlet has always shined when it embraces its arcade roots and your game session depends on how many coins you have in your pocket. However, you don’t really sell an arcade game to a 2014 PC audience so something had to give and it was up to Arrowhead to figure it out.

Gauntlet hordes

I got the guy on the left.

No problem. Arrowhead found the right formula when it comes to updating a classic franchise. Gauntlet knows its roots and has plenty of overwhelming enemies and spawners to keep your thumbs busy. Gauntlet also knows that variety and pacing are very important when it comes to playing a game that has arcade sensibilities without the infinite lives requirement.

Each of the four classic classes – Warrior, Archer, Valkyrie, and Wizard – have very different strengths and weaknesses. They feel unique and make you approach the enemy hordes based on what class you are using. At the same time, each class is very capable of handling the endless enemies on its own so you never feel under or overpowered. On top of that, Arrowhead adds in a bit of loot, achievements, and a few relics with special abilities to mix things up and give the player a better sense of progress.

I don’t think I would have grasped the differences between classes if our crew hadn’t started the game with a 4 player co-op session on hard difficulty. After the first stage, we started to get our asses handed to us and quickly figured out that we did not have unlimited continues. Your heroes actually build up a meter with every enemy that is killed. Kill enough of them and you earn a token that can be used to revive a player. This system seemed fine and fair at first when we were romping through the dungeon and had multiple tokens in the bank.

Are You Paying Attention?

Things changed the first time we ran out of tokens. Before we could figure out what the tokens were, two of our players were dead and the remaining two players were scrambling to survive. We noticed the meter and started to calm down, but then we still had to make a choice once we earned token. We had two dead players and another one was about to die. Who should go back in?

Hold on a minute, you mean, there’s strategy in Gauntlet? I thought you were just supposed to mash buttons until everything died. It turns out if you play the Valkyrie that way, you make a bad Valkyrie. I suck as a Valkyrie and my team paid for it. I had no problem volunteering my tokens to the other heroes who were much better at crowd control. The action suddenly got tense as we cheered on our lone survivor. Slowly the meter built up and another hero was revived, and then another, and then we were at full strength (and then I immediately died and begrudgingly they revived me again).

The entertaining tension may have just been a function of us never playing the game before and starting on hard, but I found the challenge refreshing. It also made me reconsider what I thought a Gauntlet game should be. When lives are at a premium, your tactics matter. Button mashing without any strategy is boring. This Gauntlet requires you to have at least a small amount of awareness and a plan for controlling the flood of enemies. It keeps you on your toes a lot more than I expected. I went back later to confirm this held true outside of multiplayer and had almost as much fun in single player. I don’t recommend the normal difficulty though as the repetitiveness can start to creep up on you when the challenge fades away.

Gauntlet Shadows

Which one of you dropped the crown?

I was worried that Gauntlet would be yet another budget priced throwaway multiplayer game that I would never want to play on my own. Gauntlet is awesome with friends. Fighting over food and respawn tokens is a damn good time, plus the leaderboard at the end of each stage encourages even more cooperative competition. That would have been good enough, but Arrowhead really took some care in making Gauntlet fun to play regardless if you have friends to play with or not. Which is really smart since Gauntlet makes it so easy to make your friends question why they would ever play with you again. You will all keep playing though, no quarters required.

Gauntlet was released on Sept 23, 2014 on PC and is available now.

 Reflex Review – Like a memorable meal, some games make a big enough impression that you’ve got to tell other people about them before they’re fully digested.