In 1985 the original Gauntlet made quite a splash in arcades and on home consoles, thanks to its simple, fast-paced multiplayer action. Just a year after the first, Gauntlet II was released and gave players more maps to play and the ability to play the same character class at the same time. More than 20 years later, it's still a fun game to play with friends, but the single-player mode gets old quickly and the lack of extras is a letdown.
Gauntlet II places you in the role of a wizard, elf, warrior, or valkyrie. Each character has its own strengths and weaknesses. For instance, the warrior is slow, but his axe is powerful and can kill many higher-level monsters with one blow, while the elf is fast, but his weapons are weak. The action is viewed from above, and it's your goal to find the exit in each of the 100-plus mazelike levels. This is easier said than done. Your health decreases with every passing moment, and there are some, but not many, health pickups. Pressing the square button is the equivalent of adding a quarter in the arcade game. This gives you additional health, but it also negatively impacts your score. As you progress, the levels become more complex and tougher to navigate. Even when the initial path to the exit is obvious, it's often made difficult because you'll have to find keys and step on panels to open doors.
Gauntlet II's real challenge comes from the many monsters that populate each level. Enemies endlessly spawn from boxes called "monster generators," and the only way to stop the flow of creatures is to destroy the box itself. This is easier said than done, thanks to the relentless attacks of the hordes of creatures. Their attacks may not be complicated (they usually just rush toward you), but what they lack in ability, they make up for with sheer numbers.
Though an online leaderboard provides some incentive to keep playing, the single-player experience grows old quickly because you'll spend most of your time inching your way through the levels mashing the attack button. The multiplayer experience is better because of the added strategy element that comes with coordinating your approach to a level with other players. You can play offline with up to three other people, and you can play online as well, but the online experience is less than ideal thanks to a lack of voice chat support.
Gauntlet's visuals don't offer much to get excited about; they're the original arcade graphics, which weren't all that impressive in 1986. The colors are dull, and it's pretty difficult to discern exactly what some of the enemies are, though the game is capable of showing a large number of them onscreen at once. Thanks to a large status panel on the right side of the screen, your viewable area is quite small. This isn't a big problem when playing single-player, but it's quite limiting in multiplayer because it forces players to stick close together. Other than being up-converted to high definition, no enhancements have been made whatsoever, which is disappointing. Fans of the original will be pleased to hear familiar quotes like "Red warrior is about to die." from the game's announcer. The rest of the audio leaves a lot to be desired. The sound effects lack punch, and the music only plays in the main menu and between levels.
If you're in the mood to tackle wave after wave of monsters online or with friends, Gauntlet II should satisfy that urge and is worth its $5 price tag. However, it's worth noting that the game has previously been part of several Midway arcade compilations, each of which includes around 20 or more games for about $20.