(-) the action tends to get shallow and repetitive quickly / some parts of the game can be brutally difficult if you're playing alone / bland narrative
Gauntlet's ancestors were clearly in the arcade game systems where people couldn't think about having a modern gaming experience in their home. You'd drive up to your town game room and drop in a quarter and have a blast with the simple, albeit flashy and attractive games. Gauntlet was one of the first to permit you tow more than one person with you during the ride. Now all of this won't mean much to you if you weren't born in the 80's, so this modernized port of the classic game will most likely be your only experience with Gauntlet.
This console game, Gauntlet Seven Sorrows is a hack-and-slash adventure game where you travel through areas and defeat hoards of enemies that run toward you in all directions. When you're low on health you'll eat food like meat and cheese, the unofficial and unconventional remedy for war injuries. It's an outdated design, but the overall package is just good enough that it'll make for a decent distraction if you've got a few hours to spare. But ultimately you're not missing out on game of the year if you decide against it.
The Gauntlet universe revolves around four different protagonists, a Warrior, a Wizard, an Elf, and a Valkyrie. The characters appearances are instantly noticeable, the Warrior looks pretty pimp and has an impressive build, whilst the charming but deadly Valkyrie is sure to turn some heads. Unfortunately, you're not given much in the way of information on any of these characters origins. And the story-line that does exist doesn't really help the case.
You'll hear a monotone narrator explain in possibly the most boring possible manner, that our four heroes were given the gift of immortality, and were told to serve an emperor. Deep inside his heart he wanted to take their immortality from them (???), so he hired six of his advisors, like Twisted Man, a Golem, and a Scarecrow. and who behind his back tricked him into accidentally killing the heroes of a great tree at the bottom of the world (???). Although he regretted his deed, he still created what was referred to as six sorrows before being killed by his own advisors (???). Before his demise, he performed through a quick whim one last good deed and released his loyal heroes from the tree. Now the main four fighters are left to battle through the remaining advisors with their magical powers and weaponry skills to clean up the mess that was left.
So the story is nearly impossible to follow accurately, and thankfully doesn't play a very large role with the game-play. The game's look and feel is pretty nice though, a Biblical mid-eval atmosphere with the menus, graphics, and music which while it's been done to death by other games, it has its charm that works in the game's favor. But once you get to actually playing the game, you'll realize there really isn't much to it beyond what you can see. Not that it should come as a surprise, because a player can learn most of the needed information about succeeding in the game within their first thirty minutes of playing. The combat is very simplistic, button-mashing, but there's at least a little thought as to how you want your character to react. Each character at that start of the game is given a basic melee swipe attack, a barrage that breaks the enemy's guard, a projectile attack using some sort of magic, and some special attacks that are used through the mana of your character which replenishes shortly after use.
The developer did to an honest effort in adding a little more complexity to the whole thing, through some light RPG elements which actually play a huge role in how well you perform in combat. First of all, there's a leveling system which encourages you to beat all the beasts you can, and gain a tangible reward for doing so. Gaining experience will give you the opportunity to use skill points, which you're given the option to use them to increase your attack power, mana regain speed, and maximum health. There's also gold hidden throughout the maps you're travel through, which can be used to purchase new attacks for your character to use through some button combinations as well as initially unused buttons. You have one special attack by default which damages most enemies on screen, and is the only way to combat Death when he appears, which is completely on the random basis like opening a treasure chest or fading out of thin space. Some of these attacks are massive and powerful, and it's good that you're given a little more variety in how you can dispose of foes when you know you'll be ripping through them for hours. The natural thing you'll want to do is purchase all the available attacks, but many of them you might not even think to use. The levels you roam through are very simplistic, there's rarely a moment where you need to give any real thought as to where you need to go since most of the puzzles are so simple. This could be a good thing because new-comers of the hack-n-slash genre aren't going to be overwhelmed by the whole thing and can easily gain experience through this level of accessibility. However, between the shallow combat system and minimum exploration, veterans of the genre are going to yearn for more depth at some point.
You're required very little though to battle the enemies. There's only a modest variety of foes you'll see, from basic opposing soldiers to monsters. They're constantly produced through generators, which usually appear with a green shade, and you'll find yourself whaling at them before you move over to the enemies. These enemies can overwhelm you very quickly at times, designed specifically to run straight in your direction with very little mind of their own like in Serious Sam, where you could even get them stuck if you take a fast curve. Even know the combat is very shallow and repetitive, there's a redeeming factor in building your chosen warrior to be the best he/she can be, which makes fighting through the onslaught of foes tolerable for a while. However there's little reason to return once you've mastered all your character's attributes.
The game starts out suspiciously easy, all the few level puzzles in plain sight, where sometimes you'll need three keys to enter a different door, but they're all within three different paths on a small part of the map. You'd be forgiven for wondering what the point was in even throwing in an option to have four player co-op for the first few levels, but the difficulty does ramp up steadily as you go. There'll be times where you need to rotate a lever or push a boulder, but the re-generators are still spawning enemies for you to smash which just don't have the patience to let you do so. Annoyances like these can usually be bypassed after a little bit of luck and trial-and-error occurrences, but the later levels practically demand you to tow another person with you. The amount of enemies on screen can be insurmountable, and even your strongest attacks seem to do little more than push them away for a minute with a temporary stun. It's clear that this game was built with the co-op feature in mind.
And that co-op is probably the star of the show here. Another user can actually summon their specific fighter with all their upgrades and expanded move-set in tact, and level up along with your character. It makes the game more manageable and fun, where at least two players can work out a bit of a strategy at times for fishing out foes. However the co-op system has its hiccups as well. Sometimes after dying you can respawn immediately, other times you have to wait for the other players to fall, which turns the game into more of a take-turn basis than the co-op that it should be. Players should really be able to with-hold joining back in and re-entering the fray whenever they please.
The bosses can throw at you a decent fight, especially since they still feel the need to fish their cookie cutter enemies at you for re-enforcement, and they might actually rip out a few lives before you realize you can just simply block their every attack them make your own move when you have the chance. There's really no limit to how much damage you can absorb, though some attacks do tend to negate blocking. These bosses are huge and intimidating appearances and go down with a solid thud.
The graphics get the job done just right but make little use of the power that the PS2 is capable of. The environments are pretty, but they never really evolve as you travel later in the level. The thugs you slash through could also could have used a little more personality. At least there's some visually pleasing special attacks that can act as a visual respite from time to time. The game's audio doesn't hold up at the same level. The music is unremarkable but fits the theme well enough, the four different warriors never speak throughout the game, and the in-game narrator will likely get on your nerves during the first hour. Believe it or not, there's a limit to how much you can hear "Red Warrior needs food,,, badly" before you reach for the mute button.
It won't take you long to experience everything Gauntlet has to offer, even if you struggle with some of the levels. The journey itself can be completed in a little over four hours, which the length actually feels about right because most players will likely grow weary of the constant repetition and button-mashing. But if you wish to play the game longer you could always max out each of your character's traits. After that however, Gauntlet will probably fade from your mind without leaving any sort of lasting impression. It's more of a distraction to break a streak of other game's your used to playing day-by-day, than something you could spend regularly dedicated hours with. But during it's short run, it's not that bad at all. That might not sound like an enthusiastic testimony, but Gauntlet knows what it's good for and succeeds at it, even if it doesn't aim really high. And that's more than what can be said about some games.