The original arcade Gauntlet was one of the first four-player co-op games I really got into--the game that paved the way for my later love of beat-em-ups and dungeon crawlers. But while the Gauntlet games have seen many revivals over the years, none of the recent ones have really gotten that original mix of exploration, combat, and cooperation right. Arrowhead Game Studios is attempting to rectify that with an upcoming remake simply titled Gauntlet.
The game's updated art style, with its dynamic lighting and detailed environments, reminds me of a less-detailed Diablo III, but you can see that for yourself in the trailer below. The revamped Warrior, Valkyrie, Wizard and Elf look modern, but there's a strong sense of familiarity in their movements. The way the characters have a slight forward lean when walking and their quick, 180-degree turns may not be noticeable to a younger player, but they're immediately noticeable homages to the series' earliest games. And Gauntlet retains small touches from the original as well, like the all-to familiar sound when you collect a key and the way you can see enemy swarms packed shoulder-to-shoulder in adjacent rooms just waiting for the door to open.
Where the game takes a departure from its established roots is in the addition of ability-enhancing relics and new abilities for every character class. Each character can equip two items, and the E3 demo provided access to boots that temporarily increase your character's speed and an orb that causes a freezing area of effect attack. However, the extra power these abilities give you is balanced by the fact that they have cooldown timers. So it requires strategy to decide exactly when you need to fire up the extra boost of speed to get out of an overwhelming wall of enemies, because you won't be able to use it again for up to a minute afterward.
I spent some time in the demo as both a Wizard (my regular choice) and Warrior. The Wizard offers a choice between three different ranged attacks: fire, ice, and lightning. But it takes a moment to switch between abilities and requires that you stop moving, so you can't just swap out skills on the fly while engaging with the enemy hoards. Planning ahead is absolutely necessary -- generally you choose between either weaker attacks that damage large groups or a more powerful attack that hits a single enemy hard. It's a tough class to play solo (though not impossible), but Wizard works best as a support class: dealing massive damage to mobs of foes while staying well out of the way of attacks. Aiming the Wizard's attacks feels slightly unbalanced and inaccurate currently, but the game still has plenty of time to optimize that before the September 3 release.
And the Warrior is no slouch as a combatant. A close-quarters fighter with a light and heavy attacks, the most important skill to get down is getting the timing of attacks down. The heavy attack initiates a small wind-up after pressing the button that leaves you momentarily vulnerable, but it's a powerful strike that can take out multiple foes. The Warrior's crowd control comes from his spinning special attack: a short spinning attack that can quickly mow down huge groups. Since, like the relics, it also has a short cooldown timer, it's an attack you want to save for emergencies. But it made running through the demo solo as a warrior entirely viable viable, even when the number of enemies on the screen seemed overwhelming.
Like the Gauntlet of old, the demo for this update was much more fun sitting on a couch with friends and competing for health, enemy kills, and gold (even though the money I collected went into a shared pot). But the variety of abilities and combat combos made playing through the small segment of gameplay fun, and the enemy assortment ensured that combat required thought, not just mindless button-mashing.
Gauntlet will launch at $19.99 exclusively for PC, which, even this early on, feels like a bargain price for what's already a satisfying nostalgia trip.