Ever play the Intellivision game Swords and Serpents, made by the fine folks at Imagic (R. I. P.)? It was an overhead-viewed game, with characters that fight monsters and all, and you, controlling one of the characters, must get through several huge mazes.
Well, it seems to me that Atari took note and came out with their first rough draft of Gauntlet with Dark Chambers, for the 2600 and 7800. It was a bit of a mixed game, however, since it was a bit slow and easy, and especially with Gauntlet experience (Gauntlet came out in 1985, which Chambers came out in 1983 for the 2600, and a few years later for the 7800), it was irritating to me to pay $30 and be bored of it within a week, since $30 was actually kind of expensive for a new game back then (but that was here in Houston, though, where most jobs, on average, pay pretty low per capita as compared to most major cities; $30 might have actually been cheap in other parts of the country, but not here at the time!).
Chambers involved you and possibly one other person going through levels A to Z, where creatures pour out of monster generators (sound familiar?), you shoot them, you get power-ups to increase your armor, shot and regular speed, you collect potions that would blow everything up on the screen and you must eat food to keep up your health (sound familiar again?).
Well, after it's release, it was like the Atari game engineers were sent back to the drawing board to improve on it, which resulted in Gauntlet in 1985.
Gone are backtracking through levels (which happened a lot with Chambers, but not as much with Gauntlet). Added were more players, more power-ups to improve statistics, and all characters had their share of strengths and weaknesses (both characters in the two player games of Chambers were exactly the same). Gone were annoying monster generators that you couldn't destroy, and a scaled-down batch of creatures were added, resulting in this most excellent classic.
So, lets get down to business of the game, shall we? First off, you must choose one of four characters that you will use in the game, although this added to the problem of worn-out joysticks a lot in the arcades (which you wouldn't know until you started playing a game, unfortunately). Anyway, meet the gang!
The Wizard - The wizard, even though he's an old dude, has the fastest, most powerful shots of the whole group. His magic is also the strongest, as one push of the potion button will destroy everything onscreen (more on magic and potions later). Unfortunately, since he's an old guy, he's the weakest of the bunch as far as hand-to-hand combat (more on that later as well), he's slow and since he runs around in a robe, he has no armor, and therefore takes the most damage out of everyone in this motley crew when he gets attacked, so he's a bit of a sissy-mary there. Oh, and speaking of sissy-marys, there's also...
The Elf - This little man (I guess) runs around in the stereotypical green tights costume, which, if you were to see him in real life, you'd probably feel like beating the crap out of him, or at least kick his feet out from underneath him. However, his high-pitched voice when he starts getting clobbered would probably come back to haunt you in your nightmares, so you might want to refrain from doing any of that. Anyway, this jolly little guy has fast but weak shots, but his magic is stronger (not as strong as the wizard's though), he's pretty fast and he has a little bit of armor and is a little bit better in hand-to-hand combat than the wizard, but that's not saying much.
The Valkyrie - This lady is a very well-balanced character: her shots are fairly fast and fairly strong, her magic's ok, but her armor, speed and fighting skills are decent. Hell, I respect this lady/character so much I can't even think of anything sarcastic to say...for ONCE.
The Warrior - Hurgh! Me big, strong, mighty warrior! Me slow-moving hulk, but that's ok, me strong though! Me bash enemy around ("Hulk BASH!") until they run home crying to mommy. Me strong in every way, as me even make disgusting burping noises when me eat food (more on food later)! Me best at hand-to-hand combat, me have strongest armor, and me shots are strong (but slow), almost as powerful as wimpy wizard's! Me not good with magic though, me not understand complicated magic...heck, me not even understand FIRE! But that's ok, because me strong, and me kick lots of monster booty! (Did me mention me strong?)
Once you choose a character from the above, you're put in a maze (one of many, depending on how long you last/how many quarters you've got) and you must find the exit to escape. Along the way you'll encounter these items/elements:
Dungeon master - You never see him, but he's constantly there, watching (a bit like the jerk aliens who kidnapped Captain Pike in the original Star Trek pilot [yes, there was a captain on the Enterprise before Kirk!]) and making comments; some are warnings, like "Wizard...is about to die!" or annoying commentaries, like the sarcastic "THAT was a heroic effort!" when you make a run for something and you end up getting clobbered. Oh, shut up and go bug Pac-Man or something.
The key/doors - Self explanatory, keys unlock doors (duh) and doors will open up additional parts of a maze. If you get to a door and you don't have a key, wait 30 seconds, and it'll open...unfortunately if there's a lot of doors in a level, ALL of them will open, and if there's a lot of monsters behind those doors, you're going to lose a bit of health before you escape...*if* you do. Muhahhahaha!
Potions - These basically blow everything up on the screen, but it's power depends on who's carrying it: if the wizard detonates one, it destroys everything onscreen. However, if it's someone else, it'll just damage the monsters and monster generators and that'll be about it (more on that in a minute). You can shoot a potion too, but it's stronger if you pick it up and use it instead, bonehead.
Special potions - You start finding these on level 8 and above. They will increase a character's magic power, armor, speed, fight power, shot power or shot speed. Good to have to upgrade a character with.
Teleporters - These won't start appearing until after level 8, maybe even later than that, possibly level 20 or higher. Hit one, and you'll emerge at another one, plus you don't have to pay a bus fare or give alcoholic bums money while waiting for a subway car to arrive. Pretty cool.
Food - Used to replenish strength, and comic relief, since half of the characters will make a crude noise when they eat it (see Warrior, the pig). Caution: some food can be shot by accident, so don't shoot first and try to eat later!
Treasures - For points, and many more points for those all-treasure bonus levels; the more you get, the bigger your bonus.
Destructible walls - They're usually lightly-colored, and shooting them will lead you to other parts of a maze.
Temporary invisibility - These are rare. You snag it, it makes your character invisible for a short while; it's best used when there's more than one player, and the invisible one can stand off to the side and shoot at a bunch of monsters and not take as much damage. (I guess the Dungeon master has one of these, but it's PERMANENT invisibility.)
Traps -"Traps make walls disappear", says the Dungeon master if you step on one of them. Sometimes it'll open up a wall of nasties that will charge you, at other times they're mandatory for you to get out of a maze. Use with caution.
Unfortunately mixed in with the above elements and your characters are monsters...
Ghosts - These are a pain. You can't fight them; if they touch you, they'll invade your soul, and do a lot of damage, especially if you're a wizard or an elf and have little or no armor. The worst levels, in general, are all-ghost levels.
Grunts - Idiots with clubs, basically. They don't do a lot of damage and can be easily disposed of, plus they're slow. (Possibly they're weak cousins of the warrior character?)
Demons - They look like giant crabs; it'd be nice to boil them and eat 'em as a health bonus, but you don't have time for that (or a kettle), so just go ahead and shoot them. They fire fast fireballs at you though, curse them.
Sorcerers - Kind of like your weenie wizard, except they disappear on and off (like deadbeat dads who won't cough up child support) and can be annoying when you try to destroy them.
Lobbers - They don't do much damage, but they're annoying cowards: they throw projectiles over walls and are oftentimes placed behind walls that you can't shoot. However, if you CAN get to them, just run up to them and they'll stop attacking. Seriously. I SAID they were cowards. (But then kill them anyway, they started it.)
Death - Oh crap. You don't see him a whole lot, but all you can do is run from him, or hit him with a potion if you've got one and you're cornered. Why? He'll suck up 200 of your health points if he touches and stays in contact with you. (I think this is what was meant when E. T. said "ouch"!)
Thief - Little jerk. He usually doesn't start appearing until after the 10th level -- maybe even the 20th, if you're lucky (and you get that high) -- but he'll go after the "richest" player (in other words, the one that has the most power-up potions). Nail him first and you get a nice little sack of gold worth bonus points, but if he touches you first you lose a potion. Like I said, he's a little jerk.
Monster generators - Where monsters come from. Destroy them and then the clean-up of monsters is usually pretty easy afterwards.
Add all the above ingredients together and you've got one of the finest multi-player games ever made. As you go through a level, anything that shoots or attacks you by hand will take up health points, so it's pertinent to kill as many things as possible before they touch you, not to mention it's worth it to get out of a maze as fast as possible. Even when you're not being attacked, you're constantly losing a point of health per second, so you must find food which will replenish your health. Hordes upon hordes of monsters are in each maze, there's all kinds of interesting level designs, traps and all, and the voice synthesis can be pretty funny, like if a certain player has been munching down all the food, which the Dungeon master will say "____ (character)...has been eating all of the food lately!" Ha ha!
One thing, though: this takes a while to master. Levels 1-7 are fixed, while levels eight and above are random. It takes repeated plays to figure out that you should NOT go all Rambo-like into the action, or you'll end up dead (especially during ghost levels). At times, when there's a bunch of monsters in between you and the exit, sometimes it's better to just run through rather than shoot them, which your character will then automatically "fight" with whatever he comes into contact with, since when you shoot, you stop moving.
The graphics weren't bad for the time period, the sounds and digitized speech were mostly decent, and I can't really say anything bad about this game, especially with being able to improve your characters with various potions (a wizard with extra armor or an elf with extra shot power is most excellent, for example), there's all kinds of messages that appear during the game that help before you enter a level ("shots now hurt other players" is a good warning, which happens sometimes) and the occasional treasure bonus level, where you run around and collect as many treasures as you can, is pretty nice. If you've got a Sega Genesis, snag Gauntlet 4, it's actually an exact duplicate of this original Gauntlet, plus with several other features thrown in, and if you can find a four-way adapter, you can even get all four characters involved in a game as well, just like in this arcade original. What else can I say, except that this is one of my all-time favorite games.
Pretty good, especially for something that took Atari a couple of tries before they could get it right.