The heroes from the classic Atari arcade hit were resurrected last year as Gauntlet Legends, a very credible update to one of gaming's finest multiplayer fantasy arcade games. Now, Midway has ported the game over to Nintendo 64, where it's just as good thanks to expansive worlds, tons of playable characters and the trademark four-player support.
Gauntlet Legends gives you eight characters to choose from -- the original four (Warrior, Valkyrie, Archer and Wizard) and four alternative characters (Minotaur, Tigress, Jackal and Falconess.) Fear not, classic fans. The Elf is not gone, but merely renamed "Archer." You get to take your heroes through seven different kingdoms and three brand new worlds containing new enemies, traps, Rune Stones and power-ups. Six devious bosses were crafted exclusively for the home version. The nifty shopping feature allows you to buy everything from increased player attributes to super shots to health. Finally, there are over thirty unique levels to explore... all in real-time 3D. And when you're finished, using the Nintendo memory card you can transport your ever-evolving character to a friend's console and team up for even more medieval mayhem.
Ok, so does the N64 version stay true enough to last year's coin-op machine which captured the essence of the classic 2D Gauntlet games? In a word, yes. N64 Gauntlet is nearly identical except in the visuals and sound departments, as you'd expect. The storyline is unchanged, and the same strategy is required to master the home version of Gauntlet Legends. Although they look quite a bit different, the weapons, characters and monsters are also more or less unchanged. Initially, you can pick from the basic four characters (Wizard, Warrior, Valkyrie and Archer). Once you build up enough experience points, you can upgrade each of them into one of four alternate characters like a Jackal or Minotaur.
As was the case in the original 1980's Gauntlet, the trick is to attack and clear out areas of enemies and generators without taking much damage. The enemies are just as devious as you remember them as well. They often team up against you by attacking you relentlessly from all different angels at the same time. And just as in the original, you'll encounter lobbers that unleash bombs at you from the other side of the wall and certain other foes will shoot arrows at you -- often at the same time that other bad guys engage you in hand-to-hand combat. However, you can return the favor by teaming up with up to three friends and using the same tactics to your advantage, which is the most enjoyable part of Gauntlet Legends. For example, an often-used strategy (in both the original and this one) is to have the warrior be the point man and battle the grunts as the Elf and Wizard attack from the air from long range, and have the Valkyrie protect the rear. It's not only a refreshing change from the norm and immensely rewarding when players work together, but it's also the best way to work through harder levels while preserving as much health as possible to fight the bosses.
Most multiplayer oriented games do not rely on a strong single player gaming experience (Bomberman, Poy Poy), and Gauntlet Legends is no exception. It would have been nice, however, if it took after the excellent Gauntlet VI for Genesis and added new play mechanics and a deeper storyline. Alas, this is a game that you won't get full enjoyment out of if you only plan on playing solitaire.
Graphically, N64 Legends is a notch below the coin-op version in terms of character animations and detail. Thankfully, the frame rate is quite good with the exception of rare instances where all four characters are on screen flailing away simultaneously against a large number of enemies. It's slightly choppy when this happens, but not enough to detract from accurately controlling your player.
Sound effects and music are typical Nintendo 64 -- serviceable but not worthy of a Grammy nomination. The background music is medieval style and sort of chilling, but not as rich or environmental as in, say, Castlevania. Musically speaking, we give the nod to the original Gauntlet. On the other hand, there is a liberal amount of sound samples thrown into this game, including several by what seems like the guy who did the classic version. And as you'd expect, you'll hear various phrases and comments from the characters when they pick up things like food or are low in health. You still get the voice of the Gauntlet gods, tutoring and telling you what you've done right and how to advance through the levels, just like in the arcade.
The bottom line is that fans of both the arcade Gauntlet Legends as well as the original classic will find themselves at home with this one. Therefore, your opinion of it probably won't differ much from what you thought of the original or last year's update. To the mainstream gamer, Gauntlet Legends may appear as nothing more than a nichy, multiplayer hack-fest. In my view, however, it's a terrific addition to anyone's home videogame library in lieu of all of the generic, me-too racing games, platformers and sports titles that are on store shelves. This game is perfect for both those who dig cooperative adventure games and classic Gauntlet fans alike. If you're a loner, I guess there's always "Mediocre Racing Game 64" for you.