Gauntlet: Slayer Edition – PS4 Review
About a year ago (December, 2015), this appeared as one of the titles on PlayStation Plus. As a savvy PlayStation Plus member, I, like many others, added it to my download list, but never touched it. Lately, as I’ve been in a fantasy-games mood, I decided to actually play it. Turns out, it’s pretty fun… For a while, anyway.
The original Gauntlet released in arcades way back in 1985, and was the first multiplayer dungeon crawler. Quick note: I’ve only played the first two Gauntlet ports on NES and Gauntlet IV on Sega Genesis, so I have little to compare to. At any rate, Gauntlet: Slayer Edition feels true to the original while making it feel more modern and gives a slight feeling of progression.
Gauntlet: Slayer Edition is essentially a reboot of the arcade classic, story-wise. The sorcerer Merok is the only one powerful enough to summon the Gauntlet, a multilayered dungeon filled with dangerous creatures and near-infinite treasures. 4 powerful heroes track down Merok and have their own motivations for delving in and finding the 3 pieces of the legendary sword, Tyrfing, which Merok is after. It’s as simple as that, just dungeon crawling fun.
There are 4 characters (5 if you purchase the extra DLC character… I have not, personally), all of which are the same characters from the arcade classic. You have Thor, the warrior and his melee-centric abilities, Questor, the elf with his ranged bow-and-arrow and dodging abilities, Thyra, the Valkyrie, who is balanced and falls somewhere between Thor and Questor, and then you have Merlin, the wizard, a unique character with many different spells at his disposal. Each character plays very differently, and one tactic may not work for another character. 4-player online co-op is available at any time during any game mode, with the ability to drop in or out, provided you’re connected to the Internet, but the more characters, the tougher the challenge. Most, if not all of the challenges/stages are able to be completed by any character, solo, however, and the entire game is able to be played offline or even with local co-op, allowing for some couch co-op fun/frustration. Lives are shared throughout every game mode, however, so one weak link in your team can make for some serious frustration.
There are several different game modes to choose from once you load up Gauntlet. The first is story, and I would personally recommend playing it to get a hang of the game. Story is level based, so each stage is a little node on the map through the Gauntlet. As you complete a node/level, you’ll open up the next node/level, and there are a couple of optional routes that you can take if you want extra treasures or challenges (more on treasure later). There are three different “worlds” (a crypt, a cave, and a hell-like area) complete with their own enemy types and as such, three different bosses to conquer. Sadly, the ending is very short and unsatisfying and left me with a feeling of “that’s it?”. Story mode is a decent length (perhaps around 5 hours or so) and features 4 different difficulties (3 unlocked by default) for the completionist.
Next you’ve got your “endgame” content, Endless mode, which… Is endless. (I think it actually caps around 8,000 floors, but without exploits, you’ll never get that far.) From here you pick a character and try to get as far as possible with checkpoints opening up every 19 floors or so so you can pick up near where you left off or died. Each new floor also has a mini-shop at the entrance where you can buy extra lives, potions, or health restoring food, provided you’ve collected enough gold. There’s also a leaderboard, but it’s topped with exploiters pre-patches.
Finally, you have the Colosseum. The Colosseum is a challenge that changes daily and will reward your character with 10,000 gold (a nice amount) and a purely-cosmetic cloak for the character of your choice, which adds a nice bit of extra playability. Again, all game modes are available for local or online co-op.
So, before you load up a game mode/stage, you’ll get to pick your character (if you’re playing co-op, only one of each hero is allowed) and customize them with any gold you’ve found in any of the game modes. Each hero has their own pool of unlocks and gold, so if you gain all of your money with Questor, you’ll have none for Merlin, and so on, which is a bit of forced replayability, but it works for Gauntlet, as the 4 characters are different enough to not feel like a huge grind for gold. Some options for customization are merely cosmetic, but you can also buy new weapons, talismans, and relics, which grant your character different or extra abilities. Once you’ve loaded the level/game mode, you’ll be able to explore the linear Gauntlet. Each character has their own set of moves (which you’ll have to view and memorize the “how to play” picture guide from the menu; there is no tutorial), but Gauntlet mainly plays like a twin-stick shooter; you’ll move with the left stick and fire or aim abilities with the right stick. Melee characters have a fairly wide range of attacks in front of them so aiming is not too terribly difficult for characters without ranged attacking abilities. If you’ve ever played Diablo III, the controls will feel very familiar to you.
The main objective is to get to the end of a floor, but there will be many many enemies in your way. Oftentimes doors are locked and the only way to progress is to clear out a room, then rinse and repeat. Surprisingly, Gauntlet fails to get monotonous in this way, and each floor you crawl is fun thanks to the fast action provided. Many areas, especially once you get further in the game have enemy spawners which require immediate attention, as they will continuously spawn enemies until destroyed. This adds a nice level of decision-making in your gameplay; do you attack the strong enemy sorcerers who have dangerous abilities and can buff spawners, attack the horde of enemies to thin them out, or go straight for the spawners? Typically you’ll want to take the spawners out first, but you can even assign your friends and teammates to each duty, based on their character’s strengths. As you kill enemies, you’ll rack up “Skull Coins”, a shared pool of extra lives. Even though they do switch up some gameplay with a few mechanics like keys, locked doors, hidden areas accessible with explosives, and pushing blocks, it all boils down to one thing: Kill all the enemies and continue on.
Each enemy you face is mostly unique. Each area has at least one “fodder” type enemy which runs directly at you and a sorcerer with the ability to buff spawners and various magic abilities. The rest of the enemies are unique in their abilities and mechanics, like the skeleton with a shield that becomes very aggressive once you destroy his shield, or an enemy that explodes on death releasing a magical bullet that will hurt you if you don’t dodge it. That said, your general strategy for dealing with enemies of all kinds is to kite around the outside of the arena in a wide circle, funneling enemies into your assault. The only real difference is deciding which enemies take priority to kill. The only real gripe I have with the enemies (other than the sheer number late in the game, on harder difficulties or in Endless mode) are the enemies in the last (hellish) area. At least two enemies have an instant kill move that is nearly impossible to avoid (especially if you’re going solo) as they’ll hide behind the horde and be unable to get to, or simply have such a wide range of effect that it’s nearly impossible to avoid. This is not difficulty; this is bullshit.
Throughout your dungeon delving, you’ll come across food that can restore your health, potions, which are a most powerful ability, and gold, which can be used on upgrades and whatnot, as stated above, changing your characters’ move sets. This adds a nice layer of replayability to Gauntlet, as you’ll have to decide the right tools for the job, though there are some abilities that are just so much better than others and dominate as the “right” things to use. Though each character has the same relics for unlocking, every character has to unlock them individually, which is kind of a drag. Each relic can also be upgraded twice for longer duration, or decreased cooldown between uses. At any rate, this character progression system is a nice touch, but once you have all of the best equipment (as you can purchase them in any order) you’ll not really feel a need to collect the rest, which is a bit of a flaw.
As you complete things, you’ll also get bonus gold. For example, destroying x amount of props, healing x amount of HP, or clearing all the stages on x difficulty will all grant you extra gold at varying intervals(a bronze, silver, and gold level). A final flaw is that most of the trophies (if you’re a collector, like me) require you to do them with one character, not shared, making the grind very very long if you hope to get all of the trophies or complete all of the content.
The Bottom Line
- Fun, fresh, dungeon crawling action, especially with friends.
- Local and online multiplayer available for every activity.
- Fun and unique characters makes replaying fresh.
- Somewhat short story and repetitive content.
- Frustratingly unfair enemies, especially late-game.
- Less fun solo.
- Shared lives.
Final Score: 8/10
At any rate, Gauntlet is really fun and addicting when it’s not overwhelmingly frustrating. If you have some friends who can appreciate a good dungeon crawl, take them into the Gauntlet, and you’re surely have some great fun. Solo is still fun, but as is true with the arcade classic as well, Gauntlet is best played with buddies with a need for greed.